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Microsoft shows 'touch screen' for any surface

Microsoft takes its Kinect technology a step further by turning any surface into a touch screen. The prototype technology is being disclosed at a conference this week.

Microsoft Research is unveiling technology that turns any surface into a touch screen at a user interface symposium this week in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Dubbed OmniTouch, it is a wearable system that allows multitouch input on "arbitrary, everyday surfaces," according to a description on a Microsoft Research Web page.

OmniTouch allows any surface to be used as a touch screen.
OmniTouch allows any surface to be used as a touch screen. Microsoft

"We wanted to capitalize on the tremendous surface area the real world provides," said Hrvoje Benko of the Natural Interaction Research group at Microsoft.

The technology combines a laser-based pico projector and depth-sensing camera, the latter not unlike Microsoft's Kinect camera for the Xbox 360. But it is modified to work at short range.

The camera is a prototype provided by PrimeSense. When the camera and projector are calibrated to each other, the user can don the system and begin using it, Microsoft said.

Key research challenges included defining to the system what fingers look like; the notion that any surface is potentially a projected surface for touch interaction; and detecting touch when the surface being touched contains no sensors--according to Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, who participated in the project and wrote about the research.

Presumably a consumer-friendly system wouldn't require the bulky apparatus that only a card-carrying propeller-head would be brazen enough to wear in public.

The project is being unveiled during UIST 2012, the Association for Computing Machinery's 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, being held October 16-19 in Santa Barbara, Calif.