Presenting Ex-zippit A: The Zippro

The Zippro HCI concept aims to unzip a whole new range of interaction techniques.

Tom Fleet
22 days agoHardware 101 / Wearables

Some of the movies we grow up with can make a lasting impression.

Still, to this day, one of the franchises that gets a lot of love is the Austin Powers series, self-titled after the protagonist. And what is a silver screen hero without his architype nemesis — Dr Evil, and his short, snappy mannerisms, suitably accompanied by his short, snappy sidekick, Mini Me.

I know, I know, you're itching to see how I bring this around to the article topic "Hardware 101," and new and intriguing interaction technologies, and well, all I can say to that, is simply...

One of the latest topics out of the HCI (Human Computer Interaction) Research group is Zipppro — a unique and novel take of a new way to interact with our personal devices.

At first glance, it seems a bit of an odd platform to focus on for use as a computer interface. Not many of us would jump up to shout out as a Zipper being a first choice when it comes to computer controllers!

However, the team behind Zippro have laid out their ideas in the following video, where they break down some of the envisioned use cases, and it's not as absurd as it initially sounds!

It's a warm day here in the UK as I sit here writing this, so I'm in shorts and a t-shirt — trying to imagine using a zipper to change the music I'm listening to seems a little far-fetched, I'm not even wearing anything that has a zipper within it.

But, this isn't targeted at being an every day, general purpose input controller, and instead looks to serve as a subtle, enhancement to garments that do feature a zipper.

Tearing through the team's research publication, we are treated to a few juicy photos of the Zippro "toggle", and this allows us to piece together some of the operation of the device.

First up, the fact that this zipper can actually count the number of teeth, or positions it has moved along the zip itself, thanks to the clever idea of incorporating reflective IR sensors into the zipper clasp. That's very clever, and likely works a lot more reliably than other ideas, such as counting the "bumps" using an accelerometer!

Perhaps the most unexpected element of this design is a full blown fingerprint reader, similar to the ones you'd find in the biometric security of laptop. This isn't a "simple" device, there's obviously a huge amount going on in this tiny package, and it's very interesting to see teams using fingerprint reader hardware in an embedded context —— something we have not see much of at all in project so far. Why is this, we wonder?

Looking above, we can also note the MCU package... it seems familiar, but it's not one of our favorite SAM D21 or similar... lo, it's a part we often don't see outside of it's host PCB — indeed, that's a Teensy 3.2 core MCU, an absolute beast of a part, with a plethora of optimized libraries to go with it, courtesy of Paul Stoffregen!

Hardware Specs

  • MK20DX256VLH7 Cortex-M4 MCU — as seen on the Teensy 3.2, with 288KB Flash and 64KB SRAM
  • FPC1020AM capacitive fingerprint sensor
  • ON Semiconductor QRE1113 IR reflectance sensors
  • BLE radio — currently unknown MFG
  • 150mAh lithium-ion battery

While a number of us may see the appeal of a zipper based system, surely all of us will see the appeal of such a pokely little bit of hardware, and the design that has gone into making such a funky system do work that is valuable to the user!

Check out the researcher's paper, or the CHI 2020 proceedings here.

Tom Fleet
Related articles
Sponsored articles
Related articles