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AR prototype makes any surface a touch interface

Augmented reality software designer Metaio has created a system that uses thermal imaging to create a touch interface on any object.


The race is on to turn the world around us into Minority Report-style interfaces, with everyone offering their own solutions. Projector keyboards are yet to catch on, but we may get there one day.

One company shooting for those stars is Metaio, a German augmented reality software and research company located in Munich, San Francisco and Dallas. The company's list of projects is pretty impressive, but its new project is something else entirely.

Called Thermal Touch, it claims to be able to turn any surface into a touch interface. The system consists of two cameras attached to a tablet PC -- one visible light and the other infrared -- and a set of wearable AR glasses. The tablet has to be set up where the cameras can "see" the surface in question.

It works by registering the heat signature left on the surface when the user touches it, sending pertinent information to the glasses display. This allows the user to interact with digital content.

Of course, this isn't without its problems. Because the finger has to leave the surface before the camera can see the heat signature, there would be some lag; and we imagine that it might have difficulty, say, registering the heat left by a momentary touch on a surface that has been warmed by the sun, for instance.

The company, however, notes that at this point the system is a prototype and far from everyday usability; its purpose, rather, is to demonstrate what the technology may be able to do in the future, and open the discussion as to how this may be achieved.

"Everyone is talking about wearable computing eyewear like Google Glass," said Metaio CTO Peter Meier, "but no one is talking about the best way to actually use those devices. We need natural, convenient interface to navigate the technology of tomorrow, and that's why we developed 'Thermal Touch'."

The company is currently debuting its prototype at the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California.