TAIPEI--Taiwan's innovators have taken to heart what Steve Jobs said during the introduction of the iPad 2 in 2011: "It is technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices."
National Taiwan University (NTU) has implemented that mantra in recent innovations for tablets and smartphones designed to win the hearts of mass-market users. Earlier this month, NTU won the best paper award at the ACM's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) in Paris. The first-prize award—among hundreds of entries—was for NTU's NailDisplay, an LCD in the shape of the thumbnail.
Once attached—like an artificial fingernail—the display shows a photo of a real thumbnail so it becomes almost invisible to the naked eye. However, as soon as your smartphone rings in your pocket, it displays who is calling so you do not have to dig your phone out of your pocket unless you want to answer.
"Since a thumbnail is relatively wide and flat, it can easily accommodate a touchscreen that allows the user to control their mobile phone," said computer science and information engineering (CSIE) student Rong-Hao Liang, who presented the paper at CHI 2013 for NTU's communications and multimedia lab.
NTU's magnetic field detector add-on, the GaussSense magnetic sensor grid, can be built into an iPad case, solving the finger-occlusion problem by allowing near-field sensing of magnetic styluses and GaussBit tokens without interference from users hands.
The NTU team, which included classmates Chao-Huai Su, Liwei Chan, Chien-Ting Weng and Kai-Yin Cheng, along with a faculty advisor, professor "Robin" Bing-Yu Chen, also presented usage models where the NailDisplay became a tiny window onto a virtual display that stretched all along the user's forearm as well as becoming the controller for free-air gestures, such as swiping in mid-air.
"Our team won the best paper award, we believe, because it answered a need that everybody with a smartphone will recognize," said Jan Hsu, chair of the CSIE department and an advisor to Intel's Connected Context Computing Center at NTU.
For tablets, another team with many of the same members, plus classmates Chuan-Xhyuan Peng, Rung-Huei Liang and De-Nian Yang, along with faculty advisor, professor "Mike" Yen-Yang Chen (formerly an IBM Research scientist) showed its GaussSense magnetic sensor grid which is designed to be built into a tablet's case. GaussSense allows a magnetic stylus or an iconic token—like a toy plane with a magnet on the bottom—to solve the finger occlusion problem by allowing manipulation of on-screen objects from up to two centimeters above the touchscreen where the fingers are out of the way.
In a demonstration app, the toy plane made a wing-shaped shadow on the screen below it which gets bigger as it approaches the surface until it disappears under the plane as the user "lands" it—just like a real plane—and thus requiring no instructions even to children on how to fly it over the tablet's moving landscape.
This is an ingenious alternative to the "SmartWatches" which are being proposed as convenient alternatives to "bulky" SmartPhones. I hope the inventors have protected the intellectual property that they've developed. It would be unfortunate if the technology were deployed without compensation to the clever inventors.