Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute have taken the wraps off a new project that projects a hover-capable, motion-tracking, multi-touch interface on any surface, even your own hand. It’s called OmniTouch and it’s a step above anything I’ve seen before.
TechCrunch has the scoop on this project. I previously saw (and broke) a projection-based interface system from Light Blue Optics at CES 2010. OmniTouch goes beyond that in several ways.
The project uses a shoulder-mounted system that combines a picoprojector to project video on a surface and a 3D scanning system, like that of XBox Kinect, to recognize motion in three dimensions in front of it. The result is a mobile interface that works like a touchscreen but without a screen.
The system is multi-touch capable, shown to recognize and track at least two points of “contact”. Furthermore, it recognizes the difference between “contact” and hover motion by detecting when a finger actually contacts the surface where the video is shown. Thus, simply passing your hand between the projector and surface will not be registered as “contact” but could be registered as cursor control, much like the hover action on an active pen digitizer.
Just as amazing is its recognition of moving projection surfaces. If you use your palm as a viewing surface, OmniTouch will do its best to keep the projection steady. If you use a tabletop, you can pass your palm in front of the projection to pull up a second screen, like a popup menu in a windowed interface.
OmniTouch is currently in research stage, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. The shoulder-mounted setup with body harness is obviously impractical for regular use, but suited for military and industrial use. I don’t imagine we’ll see this in personal use until it can be miniaturized to headset size. Still, it’s exciting to realize this is in the works.