Computer Science
3:01 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

CMU Researchers Develop Technology to Turn Any Surface into a Touch Screen

WorldKit allows users to turn any surface into a touch screen, so a couch arm can be used as a remote control.
WorldKit allows users to turn any surface into a touch screen, so a couch arm can be used as a remote control.
Credit Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University’s WorldKit system allows a user to “paint” interfaces onto everyday objects and surfaces.

“Literally you can put a touch screen anywhere on your environment with WorldKit,” said CMU Ph.D. student Robert Xiao. “We believe this to be the future of computer interaction, where we bring interaction out from our screens and out onto the world around us.”

For example, the system would allow someone to simply rub the arm of a sofa to “paint” a remote control for the television or swipe a hand across an office door or desk to create a calendar. The interfaces can be moved, modified or deleted, so users can personalize them.

“It’s a projector with a depth camera attached to it, and the projector projects the visual feedback, visual content and the depth camera senses touch interaction,” Xiao said. “The entire system is quite inexpensive, and the cost will continue to go down as the technology improves.”

Researchers are still developing the technology and tweaking it to make it as responsive as possible. In addition to it getting less expensive, Xiao said it’s getting smaller too.

“It’s small enough that we actually screwed it into a light socket, and it was the same size as the light bulb it replaced,” he said. “So if you think about it, that means you could have a little light bulb, that instead of projecting light, projects interfaces onto your environment.”

Currently, users interact with computers mostly through screens, or keyboards or a mouse, or with a little screen on a tablet or phone. Xiao said computers can do a lot more than what they currently do in our everyday lives, but the interactive medium is limited.

“What we’re trying to do in our lab is bringing all that interactive capability outwards, expanding the range of interactions we can do with our computers and making it more expressive, more power, etc.,” he said.

Xiao developed WorldKit with Scott Hudson, a professor at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Last week, they presented WorldKit at the 2013 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris.

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