Fujitsu Smart Ring Lets Users 'Write' in the Air

The wearable device, which is under development, is designed to let workers do their jobs without being bogged down by having to click on a keyboard.

Fujitsu smart ring

Fujitsu Laboratories engineers are developing a ring-type computing device that is designed to let users work hands-free by enabling them to "write" words in the air and select menu items without physically touching a system.

The device leverages such technologies as a near-field communications (NFC) tag reader, motion sensors—an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer—Bluetooth Low Energy and a sensor-processing microcontroller that helps map the gestures of the user's hand. The user puts the ring on the index finger and then "writes" or points in the air.

A mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, armed with Bluetooth and running an app from Fujitsu can track the hand motion and understand what the user is doing, whether it's writing letters or numbers or selecting an option from a menu. According to Fujitsu officials, the recognition accuracy for numbers is about 95 percent.

"With modern advances in the miniaturization of smart devices, communications technology, and cloud environments, there is interest in using HMDs [head-mounted displays] and other wearable devices for maintenance and other tasks in factories and buildings where ICT [information and communications technology] can be put to use to free up hands for operations," Fujitsu officials said in a statement. "Because operators do not need to hold devices in their hands to receive information in the field, there are especially high expectations for the use of such wearable devices in fieldwork for which operators need use of their hands at all times."

According to reports, Fujitsu demonstrated a prototype during a press event in Tokyo Jan. 13, where a company employee wore a display that was mounted to a helmet and connected to the ring. He reportedly wrote Chinese characters in the air that were then displayed on a screen.

Fujitsu's demonstration came days after the end of the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where a broad range of wearable devices from an array of vendors were put on display, including jewelry, smartwatches, fitness trackers and headgear. There also was the Ring, designed by Logbar, which wearers use to turn home appliance on and off by gesturing at the appliance with a finger. The Ring made Cnet's list of the worst devices at this year's CES.

Fujitsu officials said their device is aimed more at the working world than the home, and that it fills a need that is growing as more wearable devices come to market.

"Wearable devices have been making inroads into the workplace in recent years, notably with head-mounted displays (HMDs), in line with putting ICT to use so as to not stop what they are doing," they wrote. "But HMDs do not make it easy to select displayed information such as 'yes' or 'no,' to input figures, make notes on workplace conditions, or perform other necessary actions. The ring-type wearable device that Fujitsu Laboratories developed identifies the fingertip movements users make as they write in the air, and recognizes that tracing as a letterform."

With the capabilities of writing in the air, users can do such tasks as select menu items or make notes on photos they've taken. Fujitsu has improved the character-recognition capabilities of the device, which can read everything from numbers to Chinese characters. With the integrated NFC tag reader, users can choose which object to work on, and can select data in a hands-free way.

"As data from the object to be worked on can be easily selected in a hands-free manner, the performance of maintenance and other tasks is expected to be more efficient," officials wrote.

Fujitsu developed the handwritten character input and recognition technology, which takes data from motion sensors integrated into the ring to trace the user's finger. The company's technology also allows for longhand writing, to make it easier for the software to track the words being written and determine where the space is between words, officials wrote.

The ring builds off a previous Fujitsu Labs project that included a glove-style wearable device that could track actions through gestures and also included an NFC reader and the motion sensors. However, the ring is smaller and weighs in at less than 10 grams.

Fujitsu engineers will continue testing the usability of the ring, with hopes of getting it to market sometime in 2016.