Is that woman absent-mindedly stroking her hair? Or is she actually recording a conman’s deception and broadcasting his location? It sounds unlikely – but that’s just one possible application of a system that lets you turn your hair into a covert trigger for your apps.
Called Hairware, the technology was invented byof the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2013 she used conductive eye make-up .
By plaiting conductive, metallised hair filaments into natural-looking hair extensions, Vega and her colleagues have now created a hair-wearable switch that can discreetly activate apps by touching it a set number of times.
She envisages, for instance, that a woman who is feeling threatened could use Hairware to broadcast her location, or activate a preset emergency text message, without visibly using the phone.
Magic and James Bond
The hair’s ability to store electric charge changes when touched and this can be used to set controls. For example, stroking it once activates one app and touching twice launches another. And because stroking our hair is a natural human activity, no one need know what the user is doing.
An Arduino microcontroller and a bluetooth radio in a hairclip provide the system’s intelligence and connectivity, with an algorithm learning over time when the user has intended to trigger an action.
The result is app control that’s “a mix between magic and James Bond”, says Vega. She hopes to commercialise the technology and, in addition to uses in personal security, particularly for women, foresees potential applications for intelligence agencies.
She revealed Hairware at IUI 2015, a user interface conference in Atlanta,Georgia, last week – where she won the award for best tech demo..
Vega has plans to extend Hairware and turn beards into active app controllers too.
“I still need to figure out the design,” she says. “It could involve connecting a conductive beard to a clip hidden on the back of a shirt collar. Our next step is to understand male behaviour and how they relate to their beards.”
Hairware could have other uses, says Wendy Ju, head of interaction design at Stanford University in California. “I am more interested in what signals such technologies could pick up that are latent or implicit, rather than the use of this kind of thing for ‘secret’ signals.
“Knowing how a woman is handling her hair might provide insight into each person’s tics.”
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