Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A DIY multitouch keyboard & a smart glass without electronics!

I've had a chance to give a talk at Microsoft Research this January and also to meet fantastic researchers. I've had very inspiring discussions about the future of HCI bringing design, fabrication and strong theoretical foundations into the mix. I've also visited unique labs and see some neat projects. For instance, Paul Dietz from the Applied Sciences Group showed me his and his team keyboard, applying his technical contribution for the famous MERL diamond touch table into a regular keyboard, making it not only multi touch (you can press multiple keys at the same time as input and receive outputs accordingly), but it is also pressure sensitive! The keyboard was presented at UIST this year.
Here's a video:

The research has already been partially integrated into a product, that will be released by March 2010. This keyboard, the SideWinder X4, will be extremely nice for keyboard gamers (like myself) who suffers from the ghosting problem: when my keyboard loses track of key presses when I am already holding down another key. This new keyboard allows a gamer to press up to 26 keys at the same time!!

Among other research products, the team explored the possibility for a table top interface, such as Microsoft surface, to recognize everyday objects without the use of any electronics. The team applied optics to a simple empty vs half full glass detection problem, so a drinking glass can sense when a refill should be offered. The glass had to be modified in fabrication with a prism-like structure at the bottom of the glass to reflect light when it is not submerged with liquid. The surface table sends IR light directly up towards the prism and when the glass is almost empty, the IR light reflect back at a different angle than when the glass is full. Such a nice trick and it allows the table to function with passive objects containing no electronic components or moving parts!


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