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Moto Labs screens interactive display concept

The development group has upgraded its Sensing Screen, a kind of hybrid iPhone and Microsoft Surface touch-screen device.

Moto Labs touch screen
Moto Labs

A new touch-screen tabletop computer display brings together the unlikely combination of technologies popularized by Apple and Microsoft.

It's called the Scalable Multitouch display, and its touch technology is similar to the iPhone, but it would scale up from handheld device size to dimensions more like those of Microsoft's Surface. The prototype measures just 19 inches right now, but it aspires to cover an entire 50-inch tabletop one day.

The Scalable Multitouch has been in development at Moto Labs in San Francisco for the past two years, and on Tuesday the company released an updated video (below) as a peek of what it's working on.

Like Microsoft's Surface, the Scalable Multitouch display is intended to be used as a group workspace where information on the screen can be manipulated by hand. But Moto Labs CEO Daniell Hebert says what his company is doing is different than Microsoft and others because it does not use cameras or projectors underneath the surface of the display to project images. And by nixing the inner camera/projector, it allows the display to be thin--perhaps some day as thin as the LCD screen you're likely reading this on.

The display instead uses multitouch technology--which means you can use more than one finger as an input device. Moto Labs likes to say that you can use as many fingers to control the device as you want, and that you're only limited by the number of fingers you have on each hand.

The device also employs capacitive touch--same as the iPhone--in which a finger touching a sensor grid (just below the screen) causes a change in signal. That relays exactly where on the screen the finger is. But while the iPhone uses a solid solution known as ITO (indium tin oxide), Moto Labs employs a grid of super-thin wires that pick up on the signals from each finger.

The thin-wire grid is used right now in single-touch displays, but has yet to be used on multitouch, and that's where Moto Labs' work on the inner electronics and the software to take advantage of multitouch comes in.

Touch-screen technologies are trendy right now and, as discussed at last week's Interactive Display 2009 conference, the industry is in the process of figuring out how to push forward its technology while not becoming a passing fad.

There are many more high-profile efforts in this area under way. Moto Labs is set to try and compete with the likes of Microsoft's Surface technology, and Perceptive Pixel's large-scale screens like the one made famous during CNN's 2008 U.S. presidential election coverage. Epson recently showed off its X-Desk surface-like technology.

Right now Moto Labs' production process is very labor intensive, Hebert said in an interview. "We do this painstakingly by hand in our lab...It's really not an appropriate technique for high-volume manufacturing."

Because of that, one more prototype showing significant advance in the production process is still necessary before it's ready for production, he said. In the meantime, see the video below for a glimpse at what Moto Labs is working on.