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Turn Your Fingernail into a Track pad Using NailO

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Last Updated: Apr 20, 2015

It is considered bad business behavior to swipe away on your smartphone during a meeting. So what can you do if you have a crucial message that you want to send during such a time? Well, using NailO from MIT Media Lab, you will be able to do that without anyone noticing. All you will need to do is to tap your thumbnail with your index finger to quickly send that critical text or email.

What is Nailo?

NailO is a nail-mounted gestural input surface. It allows one-handed discreet input. NailO is handy in a situation where speech or gestures input could be considered inappropriate or impolite, or in a case where both hands are busy.


NailO features multilayered miniaturized hardware that transmits data wirelessly, via Bluetooth, to a PC or mobile device. It has three separate chips (a Bluetooth radio, a capacitive sensing chip, and a microcontroller), a battery and capacitive sensors, all packed onto your fingernail. NailO is very light, and you can top it with nail art so it’s not looking odd as it might sound.

“It’s very unobtrusive,” explained an MIT graduate student and lead author of a paper describing the system. “When I put this on, it becomes part of my body.” The research team plans to present its work at the upcoming CHI 2015, a conference on human-computer interaction in Seoul. The paper describing NailO has already earned a “Best of CHI” honorable mention.

In performing tests on NailO, the researchers recorded more than 92 percent accuracy. Still some more work needs to be done. For NailO to succeed, it must have the ability to ignore accidental gestures. To avoid this, they propose a 2-second activation press between gestures.

The team built their sensors by printing copper electrodes on sheets of flexible polyester for the initial prototype. That allowed them to experiment with a range of electrode layouts, but now they’re using off-the-shelf sheets of electrodes.

Artem Dementyev, a graduate student, and the paper’s other lead author said the hardest part was the antenna design. “You have to put the antenna far enough away from the chips so that it doesn’t interfere with them,” he said.

The team has already met with battery manufacturers in China and says the group is on the trail of technology that could yield a battery that fits onto a thumbnail but is only half a millimeter thick.

Joining Kao and Dementyev on the project are their advisers, Joe Paradiso, an MIT associate professor of media arts and sciences, and Chris Schmandt, the principal research scientist.

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