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Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon researchers turn any surface into a touch screen

The wearable OmniTouch puts Kinnect's camera on your shoulder and turns the world into one giant computer interface.

Researchers at Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University are showcasing a new wearable computer dubbed OmniTouch that turns any surface into a touch screen ... a wall, a notebook, your arm. One nit-picky detail, you have to be willing to clamp a projector to your shoulder, a la a pirate and his parrot.

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OmniTouch makes use of the depth-sensing camera made famous by Microsoft Kinect. It tracks the user’s fingers movements on the surface and correlates that movement to the application being projected on the surface. It detects the difference between tapping or dragging fingers allowing applications to respond differently to those types of commands, similarly to using a touch screens.

"The projector can superimpose keyboards, keypads and other controls onto any surface, automatically adjusting for the surface’s shape and orientation to minimize distortion of the projected images," says one the device's inventor's, Chris Harrison in a press release about the project. Harrison is a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, part of the university's School of Computer Science. "The palm of the hand could be used as a phone keypad, or as a tablet for jotting down brief notes. Maps projected onto a wall could be panned and zoomed with the same finger motions that work with a conventional multitouch screen."

Harrison was an intern at Microsoft Research when he developed OmniTouch in collaboration with Microsoft Research’s Hrvoje Benko and Andrew D. Wilson, he says. Harrison will present the technology on Wednesday, October 19, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) in Santa Barbara, Calif. Harrison also worked with Microsoft Research to develop Skinput, a technology that used "bioacoustic sensors" to detect finger taps on a person’s hands or forearm.

Microsoft Research has been heavily investigating touch and gesture control in gads of projects such as this one.

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