Interaction from the Future: Project Information onto any Surface

By James Creppel

It is the year 2054 at the Department of PreCrime in Washington, D.C. Chief John Anderton is summoned to review a murder, which is about to occur. As he makes his way into the case study room, he is putting on his gloves and the information slide is being loaded onto a projection wall that is made of glass panels. Once the images load onto the panels, he begins shifting and moving them with the sensors on his gloves. This is part of the opening scene from the 2002 sci-fi thriller, “Minority Report.”

Imagine having a similar kind of technology at your fingertips—anytime, anywhere. Instead of using a 5-inch cell phone screen to search the web, make calls, and check emails, users could project their screen onto any surface to click, dial, and maneuver through open windows with nothing more than hand motions. Does this sound like near-future science fiction? Think again because Chris Harrison, a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, is aiming to bring this idea to life with OmniTouch.

What is the OmniTouch?

The OmniTouch is a projection-sensing system that will allow its user to project images onto nearly any surface and control the information projected by the use of depth mapping and finger-tracking technology.

Nvate projection-sensing system Omnitouch by Chris Harrison

Credit: Chris Harrison

It is a body-worn unit, consisting of a depth camera and Pico projector—or handheld projector—mounted to a rigid frame, which attaches to the shoulder. This breakthrough in mobile-interaction technology will require no training or calibration for the user, and hosts many familiar functions and tools—hierarchical list navigation, map panning and zooming; and a QWERTY keyboard, to name a few.

How Does the Technology Work?

Not only will the user be able to control the media using these tools, but they will also be able to access multiple pages, with different property functions, at a time depending on the proximity of the surfaces. An example of how the OmniTouch is used is illustrated in a demonstration video on YouTube, which shows the user painting on a wall while using his hand as a color palette.

Nvate projection-sensing system Omnitouch by Chris Harrison

Credit: Chris Harrison

To test the accuracy of the OmniTouch, a user study was conducted with a prototype unit. In the study, users performed a series of tests, including: clicking on crosshairs, dragging capabilities, and tracing lines and circles. In the video, Harrison states that the results from the study suggest that the accuracy of the OmniTouch will rival that of conventional, physical touchscreens.

The system is not only extremely accurate, but also very intuitive. Through the development of the depth-mapping technology, the OmniTouch is able to differentiate between the necessary publicity and privacy values of the surface that images are projected on.

For instance, if a user projects an image on their hand, the user can extend their fingers so the OmniTouch recognizes their hand as a public surface. On the contrary, if the user bends their fingers upward, the system will recognize this as a private viewing surface. The same perception capabilities will register if the user is projecting an image on a book or other surface. This feature allows users to project data, which they only wish to view themselves, on a nearby, vertical surface—privacy—and data they wish to share with others on a nearby, horizontal surface—publicity.

According to the resume found on his website, Harrison has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of human-computer interaction. As a research intern for companies such as AT&T, Microsoft, and Disney, Harrison developed a social television app, thermally-intelligent battery charging technology, and numerous other novel technologies. Harrison was recently named one of the six innovators to watch in 2013 by Smithsonian Magazine.

There is no word yet if or when the OmniTouch will be available commercially.

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