Metaio Thermal Touch prototype
May 24, 2014

Metaio Develops New Device That Turns The World Into Your Touchscreen

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

By combining thermal imaging with augmented reality, a German technology company has developed a new interface that essentially turns the entire world into one giant touchscreen, various media outlets have reported.

According to Stephanie Mlot of PC Mag, augmented reality firm Metaio this week took the wraps off of their initial Thermal Touch prototype. The unit uses infrared and standard cameras attached to a tablet computer, and tracks heat signatures left behind after a person touches a surface.

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

Thermal Touch takes advantage of Metaio's AR software, which supplements the experience with augmented reality and computer vision to allow users to interact with digital content in a brand-new tactile way. While the device is reportedly at least five years away from a potential commercial release, the device can be seen demonstrated by the company in the video below.

“Essentially, what Metaio is demonstrating… an alternative to what a touchscreen does when you touch it,” explained GigaOM’s David Meyer. “There, capacitive sensors know you’ve touched a certain part because they can sense the electrical charge in your finger; here, an infrared camera senses the residual heat left by your finger.”

For example, he said that the device could be used alongside something like Google Glass to view a virtual chess board on an empty table, and use the touch-related heat signatures to actually play a match. While normal cameras are capable of doing many of the potential applications demonstrated by Metaio, Meyer noted that they require additional sensors, while Thermal Touch will most likely not need any additional processing power.

In a Thursday blog entry, company spokesman Trak Lord detailed potential uses for Thermal Touch, such as “pushing directions to your device simply by touching a static map in a shopping mall, building complex or airport,” allowing kids to “launch digital content directly from their toys,” or making it possible for design professionals to “visualize their digital and 3D creations on their real world counterparts.”

While Gizmodo reporter Adam Clark Estes said that Thermal Touch is “not that different than your smartphone screen,” it allows you to use an input interface that isn’t limited to a specific screen size. Furthermore, the reporter noted that the prototype was actually built using pre-existing technology and writing new software to operate the device.

According to Lord, Metaio will have the Thermal Touch prototype on display from May 27 through May 29 at the 2014 Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California. Company representatives also told VentureBeat’s Eric Blattberg that the prototype is being demonstrated to its device-manufacturing partners.

“The augmented reality software firm hopes its partners will like the demo and decide to incorporate thermal sensing into their mobile devices – whether they’re phones, tablets, or wearables like Google Glass – or into the base tech that appears in those devices,” he explained.

While company officials declined to state which companies had already seen the device, they told Blattberg that the response had been overwhelmingly positive. The VentureBeat reporter added that Intel “is one of the tech titans already working with Metaio. It’s integrating Metaio’s augmented reality software into the software development kit for its ‘RealSense’ 3D camera.”