Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore say they've found a way to turn ordinary objects into touchscreens, through vibration.
The STATINA ((Speech Touch and Acoustic Tangible Interfaces for Next-generation Applications)) technology is relatively simple: by implanting a number of vibration sensors onto walls or the surface of a flat-panel television, the system can "triangulate" the user's touch or tap, essentially retrofitting a wall, TV, or other device into a touchscreen.
Many surfaces could become low-cost touchscreens
The team, led by NTU assistant professor Andy Khong, published its research in an IEEE journal earlier this month. The team has also been awarded a $250,000 grant by Singapore's National Research Council for the purposes of developing a viable prototype, NTU said in a press release.
"Our innovative system is able to transform surfaces such as wooden tables, aluminium, steel, glass and even plastics into low-cost touch screens," Khong said in a statement. "It means in future, you could play computer games or draw sketches on walls or windows since almost all surfaces can be made touch-sensitive with our system."
By doing so, STATINA could turn walls into digital whiteboards, the researchers said.
With cameras, perhaps a Kinect competitor?
For now, the system, made up of a series of sensors whose input is run through a computer chip to determine the location of the tap, can sense the location of a single tap. By adding cameras, the researchers believe they can add multitouch capabilities. (It should be noted, though, that doing so would put the STATINA technology in the same camp as systems like Microsoft Kinect, whose camera can detect gestures and other inputs.)
Since the STATINA system uses the speed at which sound propagates through a given material to locate the tap, it's unclear whether or not each sensor would need to be "tuned" for a given material, or whether it would work with multi-material objects, such as a canvas picture with a wooden frame. It's also unclear how hard users would have to tap to make sure the system recognized their inputs.
Nevertheless, vibration sensors might be a cheap alternative for large video monitors such as those found in museums, without the need to invest in similarly-sized touchscreens. That may be bad news for Microsoft's Perceptive Pixel subsidiary, which specializes in giant touch monitors.
"I can tell you one thing -- if you want to have a knock-down, gorgeous experience with a enterprise customer, you show them our 82-inch Windows tablet, also known as the PPI board, and you don't fail to get every CEO to say 'Give me one for my office, and oh by the way we need the devices, the phones, the PCs, the tablets that work well with that," Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, said during a call with reporters on Thursday afternoon.
With STATINA, however, there might be a cheaper alternative.