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[Image above] A new smartwatch prototype called LumiWatch has a built-in projector that transforms your skin into a touchscreen. Credit: Robert Xiao; YouTube

Touchscreen smartwatches are great—in theory.

The devices offer most of the same abilities as your smartphone, albeit nestled into a smaller device that you snuggly attach to your wrist—right where it’s easy to access.

But a big challenge in designing a really functional smartwatch is balancing form and function—you don’t want a big, bulky device strapped to your wrist, but you also want a touchscreen that’s big enough to actually be functional.

Researchers and engineers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and ASU Tech Co. Ltd. (Beijing, China) have a solution that thinks outside the box—a smartwatch that has a built-in projector that instead turns your skin into the touchscreen.

Their prototype device, called LumiWatch, projects a touchscreen onto the wearer’s own skin to expand its functional area to ~40 cm2—more than five times the interactive surface area of a typical smartwatch display, the scientists report.

LumiWatch consists of five primary components:

  • Logic board – 1.2GHz quad-cored CPU running Android 5.1
  • Projector – 15 lumen pico laser projector that projects a 1024×600 pixel image
  • Depth-sensing array – 1D depth sensing array with 10 time-of-flight sensors
  • Metal enclosure – 50-mm aluminum case—just slightly bigger than a 42-mm Apple Watch
  • Battery – 740mAh, 3.8 V (2.8Wh) lithium-ion battery that offers 1 hour of continuous use or an estimated 1 day of intermittent use

Watch this. (Yep, pun totally intended.)

Credit: Robert Xiao; YouTube

As cool as it is, however, unfortunately you won’t be strapping the LumiWatch to your own wrist anytime soon. The prototype needs a lot of tweaking before it can move towards commercial production. Read more about LumiWatch here.

But the scientists report that the prototype is built from just $600 of custom hardware—offering promise that the concept can be tweaked and adjusted enough to make such technology actually feasible in the near future.

Keep watching…