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Splashy! AquaTop turns water into a touch-screen display

Good news for gamers (and rubber duckies). A Kinect-based setup out of Japan transforms water into an interactive surface for playing games, watching movies, and maybe more.

Japanese engineer Yasushi Matoba interacts with his aquatic display by protruding his fingers from underneath the surface.
Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images

One day in the future, your bathtub could become a spectacular arcade that lets you play video games by splashing your hands around.

A projection system called AquaTop uses water as an interactive display, allowing users' limbs to freely move through, under, and over the projection surface for a more immersive experience.

The prototype setup, created by a team of engineers from Tokyo's University of Electro-Communications, projects games, movies, and photos (or, presumably, e-mail and spreadsheets, but they're not as much fun) onto a liquid surface made cloudy with an opaque powder. A Microsoft Kinect depth sensor detects motions from above and beneath.

Sinking a hand into the water erases or deletes icons. (Whether the researchers intend any Microsoft symbolism here, we can not say). Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

AquaTop, which has its own dedicated operating system, recognizes specific gestures. Spread your fingers apart for a full-screen version of "Waterworld." Scoop the water to drag an image, release the liquid to drop it. Need to delete something? Just "sink" it by bringing one hand down.

"This type of interaction is not capable with current impenetrable, rigid body, flat surfaces," say the researchers, who just demonstrated their technology at the Siggraph computer graphics conference in Anaheim, Calif.

In the video below, the researchers demo a multiplayer shooting game that lets users explode enemy targets, like a rubber duck, with "bullets" of light. Gamers create and maneuver the virtual artillery via gestures, like flicking a finger or moving two palms together, while a submerged waterproof speaker disperses sound waves as a bright LED display.

Sure, it makes for more wrinkle-fingered entertainment, but it also could make for some splashy fun. If AquaTop makes it to consumers, you probably can expect Lara Croft island-hopping adventures to feel a lot more immediate, and you definitely can forget ever having to argue with the kids about bath time.