Microsoft's 'touch screen' for any surface goes on sale

Prototype technology that turns any surface -- a wall, table, or floor -- into an interactive touch screen has been years in the making. Now, anyone can get their hands on the software.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Screengrab from Ubi's video about its touch screen for any surface software that uses a Microsoft Kinect for Windows sensor. Screengrab by Dara Kerr/CNET

Turning a wall into a touch-screen computer has many uses -- it could help teachers instruct classes or be used by shops to display product information. It could even be used for fun to play interactive active games.

Once just a prototype created by the startup Ubi with a Microsoft Kinect for Windows sensor, this technology is now out of beta and on sale for consumers.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that Ubi has worked to develop the software with more than 50 organizations and is now accepting orders for purchase.

"We want human collaboration and information to be just one finger touch away, no matter where you are," Ubi co-founder and CEO Anup Chathoth wrote in a blog post. "By making it possible to turn any surface into a touch screen, we eliminate the need for screen hardware and thereby reduce the cost and extend the possibilities of enabling interactive displays in places where they were not previously feasible -- such as on walls in public spaces."

In a video (see below) showing off the software, a projector shines an image onto a pane of glass. A Kinect sensor on the other side is used to track the movements of the user, allowing them to interact with the image using touch, in exactly the same way someone would with a tablet or smartphone.

The Kinect system works natively with the Windows touch-screen interface, meaning the icons can be clicked by touch and photos can be zoomed in and out of using multi-touch gestures. Because of the 3D mapping of Kinect, the system is able to tell when users have made a full click, rather than just hovering their fingers above the screen; this allows users to flick through pages or scroll around, without selecting items with each movement.

To get the system to work, users need a computer running the Ubi software, a projector, and the Kinect for Windows sensor. The Ubi software comes in four different packages ranging from Basic, which costs $149, to Enterprise, which costs $1499. The Kinect for Windows sensor costs $250.