Microsoft Unveils Portable, Touch-Screen Input Projector
October 20, 2011

Microsoft Unveils Portable, Touch-Screen Input Projector

Microsoft researchers are developing a new, wearable system that can turn any surface, even a user's own hand, into an interactive multitouch input device, various media outlets are reporting.

According to a Wednesday Mobiledia story reprinted by, the device, known as OmniTouch, is a "wearable touch screen sensor system" that was created by developers at Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University.

It will combine a pico laser projector, which will project the touch screen onto a nearby surface or body part, with a camera that can track finger movements, which will allow people to type, write notes, draw, or even navigate between different apps simply by tapping and dragging on the surface that the touchpad it projected upon, Mobiledia added in their report.

The system is the brainchild of Microsoft Researchers Hrvoje Benko and Andrew Wilson, as well as former Microsoft intern and Carnegie Mellon University doctoral student Chris Harrison. It was unveiled during the Association for Computing Machinery´s 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, which ran from October 16 through 19 in Santa Barbara, California.

"We wanted to capitalize on the tremendous surface area the real world provides," Benko said in a story posted to the Microsoft Research website. “The surface area of one hand alone exceeds that of typical smart phones. Tables are an order of magnitude larger than a tablet computer. If we could appropriate these ad hoc surfaces in an on-demand way, we could deliver all of the benefits of mobility while expanding the user´s interactive capability.”

“This custom camera works on a similar principle to Kinect,” he added, “but it is modified to work at short range. This camera and projector combination simplified our work because the camera reports depth in world coordinates, which are used when modeling a particular graphical world; the laser-based projector delivers an image that is always in focus, so didn´t need to calibrate for focus.”

The prototype OmniTouch unit, which according to Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica is "reminiscent of the SixthSense system developed at the MIT Media Lab," is currently tethered to a desktop computer. Ultimately, however, the device will be small enough to be worn over the shoulder and will be designed to be completely portable, he adds.

In a video posted to the Microsoft Research website (and also referenced by Brodkin), the researchers say that a user study they conducted leads them to believe that "our prototype system approaches the accuracy of conventional, physical touch screens, but on arbitrary, ad hoc surfaces."

On his personal homepage, Harrison says that OmniTouch is "a novel wearable system that enables graphical, interactive, multitouch input on arbitrary, everyday surfaces“¦ A key contribution is our depth-driven template matching and clustering approach to multitouch finger tracking. This enables on-the-go interactive capabilities, with no calibration, training or instrumentation of the environment or the user, creating an always-available interface."

In related news, Microsoft Research also revealed a fabric-capacitive touch-input device known as "PocketTouch," which was designed by Harrison, Benko, and Scott Saponas. According to Microsoft, the device consists of a "multitouch capacitive sensor mounted on the back of a smartphone" and uses "the capacitive sensors to enable eyes-free multitouch input on the device through fabric, giving users the convenience of a rich set of gesture interactions, ranging from simple touch strokes to full alphanumeric text entry, without having to remove the device from a pocket or bag."

Like OmniTouch, PocketTouch was unveiled during the Association for Computing Machinery´s 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.


On the Net: