Touch and Tap: New Device Lets Users Use Anything as Touchscreen
CREDIT: Chris Harrison
A new device puts the world is at your fingertips, ready to be swiped, tapped and pinched as if it were a touchscreen.
OmniTouch, a prototype developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research, is extending the limits of handheld devices, making it possible to dial a phone number on the palm of your hand, take notes on a tabletop and digitally sketch on walls.
Typically, with mobile devices there is a trade-off between large screens and portability. But OmniTouch presents the best of both worlds, enabling users to run Android and iPhone programs on any surface imaginable.
“It turns anything around you into a touchscreen, but it doesn’t mean you have to carry around a large touchscreen,” said OmniTouch’s co-inventor, Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
While an intern at Microsoft Research, Harrison collaborated with staffers Hrvoje Benko and Andrew Wilson to develop the technology. The shoulder-mounted system pairs a depth-sensing camera, similar to those used by Microsoft’s Kinect, with a miniature projector. The infrared depth camera creates three-dimensional maps of the area, automatically adjusting for any distortion produced by an uneven or oddly shaped surface. As the compact projector displays keyboards, screens, or controls, the camera follows finger movements. Although OmniTouch is only in the prototype phase, its precision in distinguishing between finger taps and swipes is on par with touchscreen devices currently on the market.
Along with being accurate, OmniTouch is also intuitive. During a user study, researchers found that subjects who weren't technologically savvy were still able to start using the technology immediately, effortlessly dialing phone numbers using their palms.
Yet, OmniTouch has a few hurdles to overcome before it is fully usable. Because projectors on the market are not bright enough to display outdoors, OmniTouch is limited to indoor use. Also, the current shoulder-mounted incarnation of OmniTouch is a bit bulky, but Harrison expects it to shrink it down to the size of a deck of cards in two years, and then to the size of a matchbox within five years.
Given enough time, Harrison thinks “the world is basically going to become a gigantic touch interface.”
Although OmniTouch is not scheduled to hit the market anytime soon, Harrison envisions an eventual time when this technology will be as compact as a button and seamlessly integrated into daily life: “For 99 percent of your day you’ll walk around like normal, but for that time you want to check your calendar you’ll be able to snap your fingers, draw a “C” in the air, and write on your hand your calendar for the day,” he described.
“We’re trying to remove the smartphone out of your pocket so you don’t have to carry around any electronics, except this tiny item. I think that can be a pretty dramatic change if we can get there.”
This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily.