McCormick graduate students innovate wearable mobile technology

David Lee, Reporter

A team of four McCormick graduate students were given an award last month for a ring they developed to help consumers engage with their smartphones.

The “Moto Ring” communicates actions to smartphones through a programmable series of user hand gestures. The ring is accompanied by an Android application customers can use to customize their settings.

“You can assign any action you want to your ring,” said Ben Rahnema, one of the ring’s developers. “You can open an app and send a message, rejecting a call, setting an alarm. Anything you can do on your phone you can set your ring to do the same thing.”

The product was the winning entry in the Breaking Mobile Limits: Future of Mobile Technology competition, which was sponsored by Motorola Mobility LLC. The contest challenged Northwestern students to invent and develop either a prototype or a business concept during a nine-week period ending March 14.

The winning team includes McCormick graduate students Paul Park, Dennis Diaz, Nir Yungster and Rahnema.The group was assisted by Motorola software engineer Udayan Kumar.

The group will present its invention to Motorola senior executives later this year. If its product is not picked up by the company, Yungster says they hope to start a Kickstarter campaign to finance it themselves.

A video, which follows a woman using her Moto Ring throughout the day, was posted alongside the announcement of the team’s victory. Laura, the subject of the video, uses the Moto Ring to reject calls while driving, initiate voice record and make her phone ring.

Yungster said the video was a lighthearted and comedic way to convey how the product could be used in real life.

“Throughout her day, Laura’s customizable ring is there to help her simplify it,” the video said. “Whether she’s playing guitar, driving or on an unfortunate date, Laura keeps the power of Moto Ring wrapped around her finger.”

Diaz said he is very happy with how the ring is developing. He said the demonstration went perfectly and the hard work the team put into it paid off.

“Thinking of the idea is one thing, but making it work in front of everyone is another,” he said.

The product uses a relatively new technology called near field communication. NFC allows mobile devices within close proximity to send signals to each other. Although the product is still a long way from hitting store shelves, Yungster said the estimated retail price would be roughly $15.

“It’s pretty cheap because the ring itself is just plastic and there’s just a pretty cheap NFC component inside,” Yungster said.

Diaz said the team often struggled with receiving accurate gesture recognition due to NFC’s roughly 1-centimeter range. Yungster added that overcoming this hurdle was the group’s most innovative accomplishment.

Yungster said he enjoyed the experience and plans to pursue additional projects with the team in the future.

“The thing I took away from this competition was finding this good group of people to work with,” Yungster said. “A cool team to develop things with going forward, look out for more to come from our team.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @davidylee95