Monitors

Microsoft LaserTouch: Multitouch sensor prototype

Microsoft researchers have demonstrated a new, low-cost method for manipulating a monitor or wall display with your hands. Quick, someone get Tom Cruise on the phone

Microsoft researchers on Thursday demonstrated a new, low-cost method for manipulating a monitor or wall display with two hands. Called LaserTouch, the prototype is the latest invention of computer vision specialist Andy Wilson, a researcher from Microsoft Research's Redmond campus.

Wilson has worked on Microsoft's Surface computing, among other projects, but more recently he's developed a sensing technology system that would allow people to retrofit any display -- such as a monitor or projector -- so that they could use their hands, instead of a mouse, to interact with the computer.

The system uses a low-cost infrared camera and lasers to track how the user touches the screen in order to prompt a response from the software. The result could be a virtual chess game with a friend over a networked computer, or a better way to show off a PowerPoint presentation, Wilson said.

"It's a simple technique," Wilson said Thursday during a presentation of the prototype. Wilson was referring to the low-cost camera and laser setup, but he said the magic is really in the software he's developed.

On Thursday, Microsoft hosted its fourth research road show at its Silicon Valley campus since the local arm opened in 2001. The event, which was open to press, academia, high-school students, and industry, was designed to demonstrate the company's research efforts and new technologies emerging from the labs. (The company has labs in Redmond, Mountain View and, this summer, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

LaserTouch is the newest prototype from Microsoft Research, but researchers also presented other previously unveiled projects from the labs. Those included Microsoft WorldWide Telescope, a virtual telescope for scientists and the public to peer into the heavens.

Researchers also previewed Boku, a programming language for children on the Xbox 360. The technology lets kids guide, or 'program', the behaviour of a virtual robot through the use of visual cue cards in the game, rather than HTML.

Even though LaserTouch was billed as an 'inexpensive' multi-touch sensor technology, Wilson didn't say how much such a system would cost. He said that there aren't any plans to turn LaserTouch into a product as of now, partly because there are still problems with the technology. For example, it doesn't support multiple users very well. If two people were attempting to manipulate the display, for example, one person's hands might block the laser from 'seeing' the other person's hands.

If turned into a product, however, it might save someone as much as $10,000 if they were in the market for a Microsoft Surface computer.

Still, the company is working on bringing down the cost of computer vision-sensing technologies to improve products such as games, according to Wilson. -Stefanie Olsen