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Scientists created a wireless battery-free computer input device

Posted December 1, 2019

If you hear a word “device” you immediately imagine some sort of electronics, requiring batteries or other modes of power. However, it is not necessarily the case. Scientists from the University of Waterloo have created a computer input device that does not have batteries. And it is not even its best feature.

Tip-Tap is wireless and battery-free, could be used in factories, hospitals, gyms and many other applications. Image credit: University of Waterloo

Tip-Tap – that’s the name of this device. It doesn’t need any external or internal power source just because it uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to sense when fingertips touch. It essentially has an RFID antenna split in half. Each of those halves can be attached to different fingers (typically, a thumb and an index finger). Also, each of these sides has three chips, enabling two-dimensions of fingertip input. Once the fingers are put together, a full RFID antenna is created. It changes the ambient radio frequency – a minute change, which can be detected by a computer. Various functions can be programmed for this change and the result is a very capable button-like input device.

But what could you use it for, you may ask. Well, scientists immediately thought of surgeons. They do use computers in surgeries, but they cannot really touch them. By incorporating Tip-Tap device into their gloves scientists could enable surgeons to control a computer without taking their hands away from the patient. This would help avoiding constant sterilization and change of gloves that are associated with doctors using normal input devices and touch screens. But there are other areas where Tip-Tap could be applied as well.

For example, factory workers. Again, some cannot touch computers due to the threat of contaminating their work. Others are not supposed to touch computers just because their hands may be dirty. Daniel Vogel, one of the creators of the device, said: “We used this design in two prototype Tip-Tap devices, a glove with a range of four meters, and an on-skin tattoo. Such devices are useful for issuing simple commands when a user cannot easily hold an input device, and the usage context is a defined area — for example, factory workers, surgeons, or people exercising in a gym”.

Of course, scientists had to make sure that the device functions properly, whichever way people use it. That is why they mapped the most comfortable areas on the index finger for people to touch with their thumb. They looked into different input points and shapes for the Tip-Tap. The result is a battery-free device that is pretty much the only one of its kind – other ones require either a battery or a wire.

Such minimalistic input devices are always needed in many industries. Tip-tap is simple and easy to use. Hopefully, soon something like this will be available on the market.


Source: University of Waterloo

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