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Virtual factories under your fingers

We've seen lots of multi-touch tables recently, but many of them were designed for gamers. The one developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is designed for engineers. This Multi-Touch table screen allows to inspect virtual factories. As 'many industrial processes involve reactions in places that are difficult to see directly,' this touch screen permits to watch these processes in progress. It can be operated intuitively using a combination of fingers and it recognizes swiping movements. With the current model, the image size is about 150 x 90 cm. And it is already used by the Coperion Group, which builds complete plants for several industries. But read more...
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

We've seen lots of multi-touch tables recently, but many of them were designed for gamers. The one developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is designed for engineers. This Multi-Touch table screen allows to inspect virtual factories. As 'many industrial processes involve reactions in places that are difficult to see directly,' this touch screen permits to watch these processes in progress. It can be operated intuitively using a combination of fingers and it recognizes swiping movements. With the current model, the image size is about 150 x 90 cm. And it is already used by the Coperion Group, which builds complete plants for several industries. But read more...

The Fraunhofer Multi-Touch tablescreen

You can see on the left how engineers are using the system. A camera is recording what is happening on the table and a special vision-based software is used to track their fingers. In addition, images can be projected in front of a group of engineers. (Credit: Coperion Group and Fraunhofer IGD) Here are two links to a larger version of this picture and to another image of the multi-touch table screen in action.

The development of this multi-touch tables creen has been led by Michael Zöllner, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD) in Darmstadt.

Here is how you could use this new human computer interface according to Fraunhofer IGD. "A crowd of people is gathered around a large table with an illuminated surface, on which images of a journey through pipes and machines in a factory are being displayed. Users can select individual components by touching the corresponding image with a finger. The objects can be rotated and observed by swiping a finger over them – and the same method can be used to watch a process in slow motion. By drawing apart their two index fingers on the table surface, users can enlarge the image and zoom in on a detail, such as a bay wheel scooping up hundreds of thousands of plastic granules."

And does this device really work? "Infrared LEDs emit light into the Plexiglas® surface of the display at a horizontal angle. This light is internally totally reflected within the acrylic sheet, which allows none of the light to escape. A finger placed on the surface changes its reflective properties, enabling light to emerge. This light is captured by an infrared camera installed beneath the table. Although the system is based on well-known principles, various challenges still had to be overcome. 'The surface of acrylic sheets is too smooth to resolve finger movements. Our solution was to apply a special coating,' says Zöllner."

For more information about the device, please visit the Multi-Touch-Table for interactive 3D-Environments project home page. Here is a short quote. "Using multitouch input on the one hand and 3D data visualisation on the other, a user now can almost touch the 3D content and seamlessly interact with it. Thus, the Touchtable itself becomes an incredible and unique tool for the presentation and explanation of advanced processes along the value chain of plant engineering and construction: Plant elements are selected by simply touching them. Once selected, these components can be rotated in almost 360 degrees and continuously be zoomed and regarded as close as possible. Never before, one could have such an incredible and phenomenal insight."

I haven't found any references about pricing, but I bet that such a system is quite expensive. The Coperion Group is using it, but it has deeper pockets than you and me.

Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Research News, December 2007; and various websites

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