As its name suggests, the Smartstones Touch is a palm-sized, pebble-like device that uses a series of taps, gestures, swipes, lights, vibration, and sound to send short messages to a connected smartphone.
For example, it could be used by a child returning home, who makes a unique gesture pattern on the Touch to alert her mom; a person held up in a meeting, who needs to send a quick note to a colleague that he’s running late; an autistic child who isn’t able to use words to talk; or a senior citizen who can’t speak due to illness, who uses the Touch to communicate with a caretaker. You can even use it for fun, sending secret messages to a friend or loved one.
With the Touch, you can swipe a pattern to communicate a preset “visual” message (there’s a list of messages you can send, or you can create custom ones) to someone by your side. The Touch can also relay the message to a connected smartphone, allowing the user to communicate with someone remotely. The other person can then send a response via smartphone to the Touch user, like reminding grandma to take her pills.
For non-health applications, the Touch can be customized with unique gestures and messages that are relevant to the situation, like the office or child returning home scenarios. The number of different messages you can send depends on how many finger gestures you can remember, which, surprisingly, is a lot (however, Smartstones is starting with 12, to make things simple to understand).
The top surface of the Touch uses capacitive technology similar to that of smartphones or Apple’s Magic Mouse. It has a six-axis accelerometer and gyroscope to detect motion. Smartstones is working on building a gesture library that would recognize motion gestures as another communication tool. Because the Touch is designed to be wearable, Smartstones also created a leather cuff and gold or silver pendant to hold the device. Each Touch also comes with a box that doubles as a portable Qi Wireless inductive charging base.
In developing the product, Smartstones worked with medical institutions, universities, scientists, patients, and nonprofit organizations, including the 90 Foundation, a group supporting ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) research. Smartstones the company is led by experienced designers, engineers, and researchers. They include advisers David Rose, a researcher at MIT’s Media Lab who founded a wireless health-related company, and Mary Anne Masterson, who headed up user experience development at Microsoft.
While there are plenty of creative uses, the Touch’s designers intended the device to give a voice to people who aren’t able to communicate verbally. Of course, the Touch isn’t the first non-verbal form of communication. There’s sign language, braille, and even facial gestures. But, using technology, the Touch is designed to give anyone – particularly those incapacitated by disease or illness – the means to non-verbally communicate quickly, without the time required to learn something like sign language or braille.
Smartstones is planning to launch the Touch’s companion smartphone app in advance of the Touch’s hardware release, to allow people to get used to the platform.
The Touch is entering its final stretch of fundraising on Indiegogo. The funding it receives will be used to promote the product and to help fund initial production. Whether or not it meets its goals, the company tells us that it’s shooting for delivery by the end of 2015. If you want to be one of the first adopters, a pledge of $80 with get you a Smartstones Touch.