Microsoft researchers have created a system to make any surface multitouch.
Omnitouch is a wearable system of camera and pico-projector that lets users treat walls, paper notepads and their hands into touch devices.
“This custom camera works on a similar principle to Kinect,” researcher Hrvoje Benko said. "But it is modified to work at short range."
"This camera and projector combination simplified our work because the camera reports depth in world coordinates, which are used when modeling a particular graphical world; the laser-based projector delivers an image that is always in focus, so didn’t need to calibrate for focus.”
Omnitouch recognises fingers, and any surface area can be defined as an interface. "You can tap on your hand or drag your interface out to specify the top left and bottom right border," he said. "All this stems form the main idea that if everything around you is a potential interface, then the first action has to be defining an interface area."
The system also registers "clicks" by tracking when a finger lowers to within a certain distance of the defined surface.
“We wanted to capitalise on the tremendous surface area the real world provides,” said Benko. “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.”
At the moment, the device requires users to wear a camera and projector combination on their shoulder, but the researchers said there was no reason it couldn't be miniaturised to make it easier to wear.
Omnitouch isn't the first project looking to integrate computer interactions into the real world - a project named SixthSense was demonstrated at a TED conference in 2009, while another called Interactive Dirt also uses a camera and projector.
However, those projects required users to wear fingertip markers, and "true touch touch interactions were not possible since the two systems could not differentiated between clicked and hovering systems," while Microsoft's system does.
Touch through fabric
Microsoft also revealed a project to make it possible for users to access their smartphones through fabric - such as through a pocket or bag.
The researchers added a sensitive multitouch capacitative sensor to the back of a device, letting you unlock a device, decline a call or even enter text without taking it out of your pocket, by swiping it through the fabric.
“People already try to interact with a computing device through fabric,” said researcher Scott Saponas. “Think of when you try to reach through your pocket to the slider that silences your phone. We wanted to take a different spin by asking: Can we use a higher-bandwidth touch surface to provide a wider range of actual input?”
The PocketTouch system notes which direction a user swipes to unlock it in order to reorientate itself, so it doesn't matter if the device has been put into a bag or pocket upside down.