Researchers at Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon have developed a wearable technology that will turn just about any surface into a touch screen. That means that you can use any body part, home surface, car surface or consenting friend as a touch screen. Not bad. Except for looking dorky, it’s a great idea. Anything or anyone can become the equivalent of an iPad.
Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, along with former colleagues, Hrvoje Benko, and Andy Wilson at Microsoft just authored a paper together called OmniTouch: Wearable Multitouch Interaction Everywhere.
The OmniTouch is actually a “wearable system that enables graphical, interactive, multitouch input on arbitrary, everyday surfaces.” It sits on your shoulder like a parrot and uses a “laser-based pico projector and depth-sensing camera” to project applications and images onto various surfaces.
First the researchers had to enable the device to recognize fingers since fingers are the method of interacting with the surfaces. Then they had to work on getting the machine to realize when a “click” happened since none of the surfaces used had sensors. The depth sensing camera makes this possible.
The user defines the surface that will be selected by tapping on the surface and drawing out the area to be used. For instance if you need a larger space than your hand or arm, ask your friend to turn around and use his/her back. Need to look up something in your car? Use your dashboard, your car hood. In your home, you can use your walls, tables, bed, floor, or even your blank TV screen as a surface. You can also use finger gestures to minimize or increase the screen size.
Currently, the device is rather large and conspicuous but the authors noted that there isn’t any reason why the device can’t eventually be miniaturized to the size of a matchbox, pendant or watch. Just imagine if they could miniaturize it to the point it would fit in a pair of glasses. Just whip out your glasses look at any surface and define a virtual work area.
The idea is similar to VKB’s Virtual Keyboard. Both use projectors to beam either a computer workspace or a keyboard onto a surface. Unlike VKB’s Virtual Keyboard, the OmniTouch system is much more sophisticated.
Another similar idea is the Roundphone Smartphone by j-bouille on eYeka. It uses a small round device to project holographic Skype like phone calls. It can be used like the OmniTouch but as a holograph rather than using an actual physical surface. Needless to say the concept is great but it won’t be coming to any store shelves near you any time soon.
The OmniTouch could be the next best thing to sliced bread should it ever become a marketable product. By that time, I expect Intel to be producing CPUs the size of your thumbnail that have three times the speed of anything we’ve seen lately. Rather than a physical hard drive, the OmniTouch would be strictly cloud computing at its best.
After all Microsoft is building one of the most sophisticated cloud networks and series of programs out there.