Microsoft's 'Pictionaire' augments surface computing for real world objects

Researchers from Microsoft and UC Berkeley have developed an interactive table called "Pictionaire" that extends surface computing to support collaborative design teams.

To designers, like IDEO's Tim Brown, pen and paper is all you need for quick visual thinking and rapid prototyping.  Even with advances made in tablet-computing and touchscreens, much is lost when transferring ideas from brain to hand to a glass screen with a stylus.

Recognizing this, researchers from Microsoft and UC Berkeley have developed an interactive table called "Pictionaire" that extends surface computing to support collaborative design teams. It essentially allows for the digitization of real world objects.

Pictionaire works by making digital copies of physical objects placed on the screen with a high-resolution overhead digital camera, allowing a user to manipulate real objects with the all the fun touchscreen interaction we've come to know.

When a users places, say, a sketchpad on the the nearly 6-foot table, the ceiling mounted equipment recognizes it by its size and shape, and projects a virtual "drag-off" handle onto the corner of the page. If the user swipes over the handle, the camera takes a digital snapshot of the sketchbook page and sends the information to the touchscreen so that a digital version of the page appears on the table.

It also works in reverse.  A user can drag an image on the touchscreen onto their sketchpad. The ceiling-mounted hardware then projects the image onto the pad and the user can trace key components onto their sketchbook page. See image below (from the linked paper at the bottom of this post):

"Contrast this with a tablet PC," says Andy Wilson, a senior researcher at Microsoft. "I don't care how well made it is – it won't replicate the true feeling of pencil on paper. And designers are very particular about the type of paper they use, the style of pens." It's important, he says, to find sympathetic ways to incorporate the existing desires of users with the new technology on offer.

That meant also allowing people to use physical keyboard. "If you want to enter text it's nice to have a wireless keyboard," he says.

Pictionaire recognizes a keyboard and can even augment the experience of using one on the table. As the user types, images or words conceptually related to those they type appear on the touchscreen around the keyboard to help in the brainstorming process.

The video below illustrates:

Download the paper to learn more: Pictionaire: Supporting Collaborative Design Work by Integrating Physical and Digital Artifacts

Updated 8:20AM 1/26: Pictionaire will be demo'd at next month's ACM Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW 2010).

Source: New Scientist