Microsoft reveals projected, pocketable touch interfaces

Microsoft’s annual R&D budget is huge—$9.6 billion for 2011, to be exact. Over the years, a chunk of that research money has gone into exploring touch-based interfaces. Some, like the Metro GUI that will appear in Windows 8, are ready for public consumption. Others are still a little ways off—but are much bolder in their design.

At the Association for Computing Machinery’s 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, Microsoft is unveiling a couple of touch-based interface projects that its researchers have been working on for a number of years. The first and most outlandish is OmniTouch, which ditches touchscreens in favor of an interface that can be projected on any surface the user chooses. OmniTouch relies on a shoulder-mounted projector and camera, which work in tandem to draw interface elements and track your finger’s interaction with them. The system is described as being similar to Kinect but optimized to work at short range. Although the existing OmniTouch prototype looks a little unwieldy, the researches say there are "no significant barriers" to making the device much smaller.

While OmniTouch relies on a separate projector and camera, PocketTouch could be integrated directly into smartphones. As its name suggest, this interface is designed to allow users to input touch-based commands to devices sitting in their pockets. An initial unlock gesture is used to determine the orientation of the PocketTouch surface, and researchers were actually surprised at how well their prototype was able to interpret gestures through thicker materials like heavy fleece.

PocketTouch seems likely to make a quicker transition to consumer devices than OmniTouch, but both mechanisms have intriguing potential. You can see them in action in these videos on Microsoft’s Research site.

Comments closed
    • cheapFreeAgent
    • 8 years ago

    patented by Predator.

    • Jigar
    • 8 years ago

    Funny, i was showing this cool idea to my friend and Pranav Mistry an Indian name came up, this guy has been already working on this technology and has some patents since 2009.

    [url<]http://www.pranavmistry.com/projects/sixthsense/[/url<]

    • luisnhamue
    • 8 years ago

    driving technology towards Sci-Fi movies

      • EtherealN
      • 8 years ago

      We already have Sci-Fi movie gadgets. Cell phones? Star Trek. Tablets? 2001.
      Most of the gadgetry we already take for granted have prior art in Sci Fi movies and books. Hell, back when Asimov started doing his Sci-Fi stuff he used, as a little prop for a thematic scene, something as outrageously absurd as a laptop computer… As if computers would ever be smaller than a room. 😀

      (I think it was in one of the Foundation books, but I haven’t read Asimov in way too long so I’m not sure.)

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 8 years ago

    Microsoft generally requires someone else to show them how to use their technology best. Sure, MS might want tablets, but it was Apple that showed them the way to make them work for consumers. MS might want portable devices to use a GUI, but it was Apple and Google that made it work for the masses. Sure, MS might want to give us hotmail, but Google perfected the concept with Gmail. Windows Live Spaces, Kin, Windows CE, Windows 7 Phone, Bing, MS Windows Vista, MS Windows ME, Xbox 1, Xbox Live Cam, Xbox Duke Controller, Zune, and the mother of all Microsoft technologies… MS Bob. Same story, different days.

    So do I think MS is going to take tech that goes beyond standard touchscreen and do what they couldn’t do with touchscreens (stylus-based or otherwise)? Are they going to actually push a new technology as something more than just a gaming peripheral gimmick?

    I just don’t think MS is capable of taking a new tech and building an interface around it without someone to show them how first. Now after Google and Apple have done it, well then I’m sure MS will show up 6 months to a year later with a great alternative and trumpet how it is related to Windows. Once it fails, they can decide to remake a few aspects of the next version of Windows to fully accommodate said new technology in a strangely unfriendly way and spin it as a productivity boost and “Omnitouch Plus.” “While we might be adding Omnitouch, we made sure to make the new UI work great with kb&m and standard touchscreen, too.”

    I mean, MS’s got such a great track record.

      • Pettytheft
      • 8 years ago

      Kinect seems to be taking off. Imagine something like this integrated with it. Lots of possibilities here.

    • destroy.all.monsters
    • 8 years ago

    My that’s a lovely shade of nail polish he’s using! Anyone know where I can get it?

    And obligatory “the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear!” comment.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 8 years ago

    In other news: holy crap 9.6 [i<]Billion[/i<] dollars in R&D? I can tell that must be paying in dividends, Microsoft...

    • gmskking
    • 8 years ago

    This definitely looks to be the future. Can’t wait until they miniaturize it and start selling.

    • ew
    • 8 years ago

    Yawn… Wake me up when they’ve got touch interface tattoos.

      • Walkintarget
      • 8 years ago

      I could see the pr0n industry going for this so-called ‘touch’ interface 😉

    • thaneross
    • 8 years ago

    Those R&D numbers are pretty misleading; people often think those 9.6 billion are going into research and experimental projects like this one when in fact that vast majority of that money is really just their development costs for their existing software. It’s like calling the guy who writes SCSI drivers for windows 8 a “researcher”.

      • EtherealN
      • 8 years ago

      Well, not quite. They push a lot of money into experimental OS implementations and so on – and of course the objective is always to integrate it into a product. If you make a research OS to investigate a specific kernel implementation, and then decide that hell yeah, that works, and you then go on to create the NT kernel off of that, it becomes a bit hard to find a definition of when it stops being research and starts to be development.

      I’d personally say the defining divider is that it’s development once you have a specific commercialization in mind, and research when you are just looking at the technology. So if you make a research kernel, it’s research, and when you then decide to actually use it and start implementing it as part of an OS, it’s development. And yeah, MS definitely fudges the numbers a bit to make sure they sound as impressive as possible there…

    • Noigel
    • 8 years ago

    Microsoft… moving us all one step closer to owning shoulder-mounted Predator lasers.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      I’m more worried that someone will sneeze and activate the personal nuclear self-destruct device.

        • 5150
        • 8 years ago

        Survival of the fittest my friend.

        • Dr. Zhivago
        • 8 years ago

        I wish I could Upvote you infinitely for that! LOL! 🙂

        • rhysl
        • 8 years ago

        Thats why M$oft made SafeMode!

      • dashbarron
      • 8 years ago

      And 10 years later the biggest scandal hits for an outbreak of cancerous cells in the left forearm. Explains why those things wore the body suits.

      Everyone always complained Microsoft had more viruses….

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    It seems like just a week ago someone was saying that phones could never take the place of a desktop PC for general users because of their size…

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      A projected keyboard is not a new invention, such a device was demonstrated at least five years ago at one of the major trade shows (Computex?) IIRC. I think it was using infrared to triangulate the user’s finger position relative to the projected work surface. The problem is that humans need some sort of tactile feedback in order to properly touch-type. Lacking that, the user tends to spend more time watching his or her hands rather than watching the display, which greatly slows down the process.

      As an alternative to navigating a hardware touchscreen, this could work great. As an alternative to having a full computer system…eehhh, not so sure.

        • odizzido
        • 8 years ago

        No reason why you can’t project the actual screen and have a small rolled up keyboard.

          • ludi
          • 8 years ago

          No theoretical reason, anyway. Projected displays tend to have problems with brightness, color temperature, and saturation. LEDs will need to go through a couple more cycles of efficiency and miniaturization improvements before a practical, smartphone-integrated display projector can be realized.

          • travbrad
          • 8 years ago

          If I’m going to carry around a small rolled up keyboard, why not just get a ultra-portable/tablet?

            • odizzido
            • 8 years ago

            Because if you had a keyboard that folded up like a piece of cloth it would be way smaller

    • 5150
    • 8 years ago

    Take THAT Apple.

      • willyolio
      • 8 years ago

      i don’t think apple cares. they don’t do research at all… more just design and styling.

        • Jigar
        • 8 years ago

        Agreed, but you forgot one more thing, they are more into design, styling and patent filing.

      • kamikaziechameleon
      • 8 years ago

      It could be argued that apple is not a technology company but rather a product design company.

        • destroy.all.monsters
        • 8 years ago

        I don’t know that they qualify as say a Bertone. However that’s a great analogy.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      what apple? This one?

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 8 years ago

      lol.

      • Antimatter
      • 8 years ago

      Even Nokia spends 5 times as much as Apple on mobile R&D, but that hasn’t helped it in sales department.

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