The world at your fingertips...
Researchers from Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University have shown off technology that can turn any surface into a touchscreen.
The OmniTouch is a wearable device that projects a graphical user interface, such as a computer desktop or a virtual keypad, onto any surface, from a table to a hand. Users can interact with these virtual interfaces using their fingers, which are tracked by sensors built into OmniTouch, in the same way they would use a touchscreen.
The prototype technology is on display at UIST 2012, the Association for Computing Machinery's 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, that is being held in Santa Barbara, California.
OmniTouch is designed to be wearable. The prototype is a shoulder-mounted device made up of a laser-based pico projector and a depth-sensing camera, similar to that found in the Microsoft Kinect.
The OmniTouch uses the depth-sensing camera to build a graphical model of the world which allows it to calculate how far away objects are. The system's software can recognise fingers, and a depth map allows it to determine whether a finger is touching a surface. When a finger touches a surface onto which an interface is projected, users can interact with the screen, clicking buttons or dragging icons, in the same way they would with any other touchscreen.
The ability of the system to track finger movements allows it to support a wide range of gestures, such as drawing with fingers, as seen here.
The system can be set up to allow users to create touchscreen interfaces on any surface. For example, the system could be configured to recognise a finger being dragged diagonally, as seen here, as a gesture telling it to create a new interface on that surface. The size of the interface would correspond to the distance the finger is dragged.
Because the system can trace the movement of fingers on any surface, it can be set up to recognise gestures such as pinch-zooming on a map.
Microsoft Research Redmond researcher Hrvoje Benko said in a statement: "We wanted the ability to use any surface.
"Let the user define the area where they want the interface to be, and have the system do its best to track it frame to frame. This creates a highly flexible, on-demand user interface."
Another potential use for OmniTouch is tracking the movement of fingers to highlight text in a printed document.
In this picture, the user is selecting apps from a menu on his hand which are then run on the interface projected onto the table.
Researchers say the wearable shoulder-mounted prototype could be reduced to a matchbox-sized device that could be worn on a watch or a pendant.
A shot showing how the system recognises and traces fingers.