Portico takes tablets off-screen

Digital poop from a stuffed zebra illustrates a boundary-breaking tablet interface from Intel, Microsoft, and the University of Washington.

Tech Culture
an augmented reality game for a tablet
Getting really hands-on with computer games. Video screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

Someday we may say size doesn't matter for tablets. Researchers from Intel, Microsoft, and the University of Washington have extended the interactive action beyond the tablet screen to the surface where a tablet computer sits.

Portico is similar to existing tabletop computing systems like Microsoft's Surface that recognize gestures and real-world objects, but is more portable and affordable. It re-creates the tabletop experience on a tablet by breaking free of the confines of the tablet's screen.

The system features a pair of downward-facing cameras mounted on stalks affixed to the back edge of a tablet. The cameras enable the system to see the tablet's screen and the surface around the tablet. Portico's augmented-reality software recognizes objects on and near the tablet. This allows interaction to be both on and off the tablet. (See the video below.)

The researchers are aiming to use Portico for education and entertainment applications. One app is a version of the venerable arcade game Asteroids. The player controls the onscreen spaceship by moving a toy spaceship on the surface in front of the tablet.

In another app, a player takes a soccer penalty shot by rolling a golf-ball-size soccer ball on the surface. When the ball hits the front edge of the tablet, a virtual soccer ball shows up onscreen rolling in the same direction.

An app aimed at very young computer users lets a stuffed zebra interact with objects on the tablet's screen: eat carrots, drink water, and poop on a patch of sand. When the player lays the zebra flat in front of the tablet, the system sees that the zebra is "asleep" and a thought bubble shows videos of the zebra's "dreams".

I like the idea of making this kind of interaction portable and affordable, but half the fun of tabletop systems is the extra-large screen. Maybe someone with a little imagination will come up with compelling apps for Portico, but at the moment I'm not sure how I'd use it. What do you think?

(Via Technology Review)

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