Whether it’s the Samsung Gear S3, the Garmin Forerunner 935, the Tag Heuer Modular 45, the LG Watch Sport, or the Apple Watch Series 2, the best smartwatches of 2017 come fully equipped with state-of-the-art sensor technology. Housed in these watches are intuitive operating systems enabling users to connect to their smart devices like never before. If you end up in a remote location without a WiFi connection, the modern smartwatch will still keep your data stored and your GPS navigation readily available. So with all of this revolutionary technology packed inside our smartwatches, what exactly is missing?

The Problem with Smartwatch Touchscreens

Simply put, smartwatches are missing a bit more functionality. Touchscreens, for example, are designed to fit on the user’s wrist and because of it, the interface is rather limited. After countless attempts by watch manufacturers to extend the user interface, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, the University of Copenhagen, and Aalto University in Finland had a major breakthrough.

“Every new product generation provides better screens, faster processors, and more precise cameras, but with regard to input, the limitations remain,” says Srinath Sridhar, a researcher at Saarland University and is researching t the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science.

Introducing WatchSense

WatchSense, according to a Saarland University press release, “allows users to control a mobile device by moving the fingers of one hand on and above the back of the other.” Armed with small 3D depth sensors worn on the user’s forearm, WatchSense is capable of recognizing index finger and thumb positions as they move on the back of the hand that’s wearing the watch. This gesture-based movement controls different functions of the user’s connected smartphone and is an extension of the smartwatch interface.

“The current low-temperature sensors do not yet fit into a smartphone, but the trend is clearly that in the near future smaller sensors will be integrated into the smartwatches,” Sridhar said.

New Forms of Interaction

Sitting strategically on the user’s forearm, approximately eight inches away from the watch face, the low-level sensor uses the three-dimensional airspace above the back of the hand. In the most recent lab test, the new WatchSense technology enabled users to adjust music volume and select playlist songs faster than using an Android Music app.

“The most important thing is that we can not only recognize the fingers but also distinguish them,” Sridhar explained. “We need something like WatchSense when we want to be productive on the road, so you can send a message quickly on the way to work. WatchSense enables real-world interaction on the move.”

Researchers hope to someday integrate the depth sensor technology into the smartwatch itself and from the looks of it, doesn’t seem like they have to wait much longer. The WatchSense team plans on demonstrating WatchSense at the upcoming Conference on Human Factors in Computer located in Denver, Colorado.

Sources: New Atlas, Saarland University Press Release