OmniTouch, a wearable projection system developed by researchers at Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University, enables users to turn pads of paper, walls or even their own hands, arms and legs into graphical, interactive surfaces.
The smaller the smartphone, the better -- that is, until the screen is so tiny that the user can't see it, or the keyboard is too small to be used easily. There are limits to how small a smartphone can be.
Or are there?
A Carnegie Mellon University doctoral student has been working with Microsoft Research on his idea to use a wearable projector that turns any surface -- a piece of paper, a tabletop, a wall, even a hand, arm or leg -- into a graphic interactive surface that serves as a computer or smartphone touch screen.
The "OmniTouch" technology uses a depth-sensitive camera similar to Microsoft Kinect to track the user's fingers on everyday surfaces. By tapping or dragging fingers on the image projected onto a surface, the user can perform the same functions he or she could do with a touch screen found on smartphones or table computers, or with the mouse on a tabletop computer.
The projector superimposes keyboards, keypads and other controls onto a surface, automatically adjusting for the surface shape and orientation to minimize distortion of the projected images, a news release states. But in time it also could project websites, photos and videos onto any surface.
Chris Harrison, a doctoral student at CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, worked with Microsoft Research to develop the technology. The prototype sits on a person's shoulder and projects an image that transforms any surface into a touch screen.
OmniTouch could represent the first step toward replacing the touch screen in favor of convenience without requiring larger hardware, as does the iPad, a larger version of an iPhone, he said.
But the prototype must be miniaturized to the size of a pack of cards or even a matchbox so it will fit on the back of a cell phone, on a pendant or other small surfaces. The goal is making it unobtrusive so the user can turn any surface into a touch screen, keyboard or computer monitor.
OmniTouch represents one example of an image functioning as the real thing.
"Mobile devices are an interesting thing," Harrison said. "We love the idea they are mobile, but we hate the fact they are so tiny. They must be tiny enough to fit into our pocket. How do you keep things mobile but make the interaction big? Normally those don't go together."
But in time, OmniTouch technology, he said, might provide the best of both worlds.