The next step to our cyborg future? Fierce, fabulous ‘smart nails’

If you’ve paid attention to the ongoing march of technology over the past few years, you’d already know that the line between man and machine is becoming ever more thin. People are becoming figuratively attached to their mobile devices, and new technology like the Google Glass is making us more connected to the Internet without laptop or desktop computers. For those expecting some kind of cyberpunk ability to actually remake our bodies into connective machines, however, we’re not quite there yet – But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t already working on ways to take us that final step.

One of those ways is a research currently being carried out by Chao-Huai Su and a team at National Taiwan University in Taipei. The project is considering the ways in which technology won’t just be at our fingertips, but on our fingertips, courtesy of a process that will turn our fingernails into screens for digital content. The “Smart Nail”-esque idea, which admittedly sounds more than a little science fiction-y, is that fingernails could be coated by some kind of organic light-emitting material instead of the traditional nail polish which would allow them to display information transferred wirelessly from a central source.

Su and team do admit that the technology is quite a distance away from completion – or even creation; they are less interested in the production of such nail coating information display technology and more in the ways we’ll use it when it has been created. To that end, they’ve created a temporary work-around in the form of a small LED screen that testers wear on their fingers via a tiny ring to give the impression of a fingertip LED screen. Judging by the prototype photo above, we’d be apprehensive to believe most people’s fingertips are that square or 2.5 centimeters wide, but this is meant to be a temporary solution.

The scientists imagine three potential uses for the fingernail displays when they eventually arrive: As a display to enlarge elements of a touchscreen that the “active” finger touches so text or images are more clear, as a way to understand the control of electronic devices that do not have visual displays of their own (an iPod shuffle, for example), or as a display to explain your own gestures or movements with the addition of some form of accelerometer or other outside input to measure what your body is doing.

The National Taiwan University team will present their findings to date at the upcoming Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which will be held in Paris this April, and a draft paper of their findings has already been submitted. Hopefully, the future uses of this will be limited to ten; the less excuse for a revival of toenail-revealing sandals in future, the better. Either way, nail salons better start taking notes.

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