Wearable device developed at UW could help surgeons navigate computers while operating

Tip-Tap is designed to sense when two fingers are touching, allowing someone to control a finger while doing something else. (Source: University of Waterloo)

New wearable technology developed through the University of Waterloo could help surgeon to navigate a computer while operating.

Tip-Tap is described in a news release as an "inexpensive and battery-free" device that communicates through radio frequency identification (RFID) to sense when the wearer's fingertips touch.

"It uses a reader, something that sends a radio frequency out, and it can detect whether these tags are in the space around the reader or not, and our technique essentially makes the tags disappear or appear to give different kinds of input," explains computer science professor Dan Vogel, who was a researcher for the project.

The year-long project, in conjunction with the National Research Council of Canada, is the first battery-free example of such a technology.

That's what could allow it to be used in more delicate scenarios, like operating rooms.

"One of the many possible applications of the device is in surgeries. What typically happens now with operation digital preplanning is that an assistant is responsible for navigating the computer and communicating with the surgeon, but this is slow and difficult," Vogel is quoted in a news release.

"If the surgeon tries to navigate it themselves using a touchscreen or a mouse, it’s problematic because it would require constant sterilization, and current alternatives such as big gestures tracked by computer vision can get very tiring."

The main constraint on the technology, Vogel says, is that it has to be in a confined area where the RFID readers can be installed.

That means that, while a gym or an industrial space could employ them, the average person wouldn't be able to wear it while walking down the street to control their phone—not yet, at least.