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With Fujitsu’s new smart ring, we can all look like crazy lunatics


© Flickr/CC-licence/alphadesigner

Remember when Bluetooth headsets first started to appear, and you would encounter seemingly mad people talking to themselves? Oh how we laughed at them. Well, we could be in for another bout of craziness.

Fujitsu Laboratories in Japan have developed a “ring-type wearable device” that is capable of processing text input by fingertip gestures. In other words, the ring enables the user to trace letterforms in the air, then process the movements and translate them into text.

The first version of this smart ring weighs in at just under 10 grams, and whilst described as “compact and light”, is a little on the bling side when it comes to size. As well as handwriting-input functionality, it also incorporates a reader for NFC tags – the idea here is that an operator (note we’re talking industrial applications for the moment, rather than consumer applications) can specify an object to be worked on with a touch on its NFC tag and display an operation's details.

By writing in the air with your fingertip, users can select menu options or take notes; whatever is required. But tracing a sequence of letters in front of you can easily result in a jumbled mess of lines. So what Fujitsu has done is to use its proprietary technology to corrects the letterform tracings to improve character recognition accuracy, enabling recognition of everything from numbers to Chinese characters.

Motion sensors built into the ring to trace the movements of the operator's finger, and from this information Fujitsu’s algorithms can deduce characters. For numeric entry, the company says recognition accuracy has reached 95 per cent without any special user training. Words are more difficult. Therefore Fujitsu has developed a technology that automatically recognises the unwanted connections between the strokes of the letterform that result from the longhand trace, and correct the track data accordingly.

Fujitsu Ring small

© Fujitsu

Fujitsu has history here. It has been working on smart workplace solutions for some time now, especially for industrial and hazardous environments, and even unveiled an earlier version of its ring device last year in the form of a glove.

There has been an increase in interest in using head-mounted displays (HMDs) such as Google Glass and other wearable devices for maintenance and other tasks in factories and buildings, freeing up hands for operations. Indeed, we’ve already seen surgeons use Google Glass whilst performing operations, and there are cases of Glass being tested for oil pipeline maintenance.

But whilst HMDs enable information to be browsed and accessed without using a handheld phone or tablet, it is still difficult to manipulate the information received. Viewing is one thing; entering data is quite another. Fujitsu Laboratories believes its new ring design will fix this shortcoming. It is now testing the real-world usability of the device in the field with a goal of practical implementation later this year.

In the meantime, feel free to practice your air writing and ponder this: how long before somebody develops a solution to convert air guitar moves into actual music? Careful what you wish for.

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