Microsoft Research working on "any surface" touch screen

Science fiction movies and TV shows that show people using holographic touch interfaces on their PCs may be closer to reality than previously thought.  The official Microsoft Research web site has announced that it has been working on two different types of touch interfaces. One of them is called OmniTouch and enables nearly any kind of surface to be used as an user interface.

Microsoft's Hrvoje Benko said, "The surface area of one hand alone exceeds that of typical smart phones. Tables are an order of magnitude larger than a tablet computer. If we could appropriate these ad hoc surfaces in an on-demand way, we could deliver all of the benefits of mobility while expanding the user’s interactive capability."

The prototype is supposed to be wearable by a person, using a combination of a camera created by PrimeSense with a laser-based pico projector. As you can see from the pictures above, the projector creates the image of the user interface which can be interacted with via the camera. While the prototype camera is pretty bulky to use, the web site claims the projector and camera combo could be made as small as a matchbox at some time in the future.

Another way of creating a different kind touch interface is called PocketTouch. It's a design that allows a smartphone or other device to be accessed without the user taking it out of his or her pocket. The site says, "It uses the capacitive sensors to enable eyes-free multitouch input on the device through fabric, giving users the convenience of a rich set of gesture interactions, ranging from simple touch strokes to full alphanumeric text entry, without having to remove the device from a pocket or bag." You can see examples in the pictures above.

So how does this process work, especially since smartphone users generally have no idea how their device is oriented in their pocket or bag? The site says, "The team resolved this by using an orientation-defining unlock gesture to determine the coordinate plane, thus initializing the device for interaction. Once initialized, user orientation can be from any direction as long as it’s consistent. PocketTouch then separates purposeful finger strokes from background noise and uses them as input."

Images via Microsoft

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Better release it quick for Windows Phones before apple "borrows" the idea and claims they invented it....

Xilo said,
Isn't this really old news? I remember seeing that Hrvoje Benko quote a helluva long time ago.

To be fair, there have been variants of this for quite some time, but what is special here is what has been enabled by newer tech, namely the 3D sensor from Kinect, Pico projectors and increased portable processing power

Xilo said,
Isn't this really old news? I remember seeing that Hrvoje Benko quote a helluva long time ago.

Not just that, it was a part of the original Bill Gates 'vision' of home computing back in the 90s that, some day, any and every surface in the home will "be a computer".

Lately people have been dropping the term "DNA" when talking about tech companies, and I'd say even with Bill Gates out of the throne, those ideas are still deeply woven into the flow of the company's efforts.

Xilo said,
Isn't this really old news? I remember seeing that Hrvoje Benko quote a helluva long time ago.

Microsoft has been working on these forms of technologies since the mid-90s, so ya, this isn't new-new. The recognition on non-flat surfaces is more impressive than previous incarnations though.

Go look up projection Whiteboards back in the 90s. Microsoft was working on project touch and how to optimize UI constructs for large areas, there is an old video of them using velocity techniques to guess the user's intent so that you could 'throw' objects on the screen to where you wanted them, instead of trying to move them 5 feet by dragging them. (Stuff that Apple doesn't seem to get, but since they deal in tiny screens, might not have to consider either.)

I think I have seen similar idea in one of TED talks... But it is good to see that Microsoft is investing resources to the idea, perhaps we can use it someday.

GraphiteCube said,
I think I have seen similar idea in one of TED talks... But it is good to see that Microsoft is investing resources to the idea, perhaps we can use it someday.

Microsoft R&D was doing projection and touch back in the 90s. Remember the whiteboard technologies that used the new LCD projectors and you could move things around on them?

None of this is 'new', but the technology that makes it happen is the interesting part and the software that can so accurately work on multi-dimensional surfaces is what is impressive.

There are the older Microsoft R&D presentations of using surface technologies on tables that go back several years, with the last public one I saw was the surface Globe, that was doing mutil-dimensional projection on a round surface.

As for the TED Video, I don't remember a project one, you have a link? I have the link to the mutli-touch demonstrations that Apple ripped off, but not any projection touch demonstrations.

(There is the Microsoft multi-object-input video - but don't remember if was at TED. It is the one where painters are using brushes and their hands to paint on the screen like traditional mediums that work with both surface image input technologies and simplistic touch and stylus technologies.)

Now all I need is holographic technology and I will have everything I need to make my very own Omnitool!

greenwizard88 said,
That's pretty awesome! I always had a feeling that the touch-screen the way Apple envisions it, was a technological fad

I look forward to 5-10 years from now when Apple claims it as their own invention.

JaredFrost said,

I look forward to 5-10 years from now when Apple claims it as their own invention.

well at least they invented the mobile phone /s

greenwizard88 said,
That's pretty awesome! I always had a feeling that the touch-screen the way Apple envisions it, was a technological fad

Ya, and it was 'envisioned', not their 'vision' as they ripped off the presentation at TED, even mimicking the gestures that were made up for the conference as an example.