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Tech of the Week: stroke your hair to control your phone

Hairware looks like hair extensions tacked on to a hair clip – which is exactly what it is, but with a slight techy upgrade. It looks like it’s taken straight from high-tech spy flick, but the device is actually an innovative smart wearable that allows the user to innocuously share their location data or send a text, all without touching a phone.

Created by Katia Vega, a post-doc researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University located in Rio de Janeiro, the device uses conductive metallised hair filaments that have been woven into natural-looking hair extensions.

The device has gotten Vega an award for best tech demo at IUI 2015, a user-interface conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where delegates used the invention to take selfies.

And it’s not the first time Vega has come under the spotlight. Back in 2013, she created a way for people to control drones with the blink of an eye.

The Hairwear switch can discreetly activate mobile apps by a user touching it a set number of times, as the natural electrical conductivity of hair can be used to set controls to perform certain actions.

Different ways of touching the hair can be programmed differently; a single stroke activates an app, a double stroke toggles a phone’s location tracking, while continuous playing with the hair can send out an SOS text message.

The pieces of hair serve as capacitive sensors that can detect variations, doing so with an Atmel based Arduino, open-sourced DIY computer hardware that can be used in everything from quadcopters to toasters.

The Arduino interprets the electrical input and transmits it to a smartphone via Bluetooth. A machine-learning algorithm is used to recognise a user’s intention to avoid accidental activation.

There are a great number of possibilities for this type of technology, with Katia envisioning the prototype making it to the commercial market as a security gadget for women. Or, if you’re fond of flights of fancy, used by intelligence agencies to gain secretive information, such as taking a photo or recording a conversation.

And just in case any man objects, Vega reckons she can do the same for beards.

“I still need to figure out the design,” she says. “It could involve connecting a conductive beard to a clip hidden on the back of a shirt collar.”

The jack-of-all-trades minion who kind of does a bit of everything, he's also our former resident geek and Reddit fiend. He's now disappeared off somewhere in to the Matrix, but every now and then he resurfaces for a random guest article.

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