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February 05, 2009

Gadgets -MIT Researchers Unveil Computing Device that Turns Any Surface into a Touchscreen


Those brains at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT (News - Alert)) are always up to something. Last month the MIT wizards were in the news wires for testing a robotic forklift prototype for carrying and unloading military supplies in a war zone. Researchers from the science and technology school developed this technology in an effort to keep soldiers safer and out of harm's way.
 
Now, these university scientists are hard at work developing a compact device with a “sixth sense” that collects data on the environment around the user, searches for information using the Internet as a data store, aggregates the results and presents it back to the user via a display.
 
Created in MIT's Media Lab, the device is powered by commercial products that can transmit Internet information into daily routines.
 
Even more interesting, is that the portable device- complete with a Web camera, a battery-powered projector and a mobile telephone- can be worn as jewelry. Signals from the camera and projector are sent to smartphones with Internet connections.
 
According to MIT, the device is controlled by simple hand gestures and can transform any surface into a touchscreen for computing. An amazing little device, it can even take photos if a user frames a scene with his or her hands, or project a watch face with the correct time on a wrist if the user makes a circle there with a finger. Amazing? I think so.
 
"Other than letting some of you live out your fantasy of looking as cool as Tom Cruise in 'Minority Report' it can really let you connect as a sixth sense device with whatever is in front of you," said Dr. Patty Maes, an MIT researcher.
 
The futuristic gadget was unveiled on Wednesday by Dr. Maes at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference in Southern California. The device was made from store-bought components, putting the developments costs at a grand total of $300.

TED photo courtesy of Eric Hersman

Similar to toting around a mini genius, the device recognizes items in stores, and then gathers and projects information about products to the user. It also is able to provide quick signals to let users know what the best products are based on their needs.
 
Another amazing feature is the device’s ability to look at an airplane ticket and let the user know whether the flight is delayed or on time. It is also able to recognize books (based on an image or RFID) in a book store and then project reader reviews or author information from the Internet onto blank pages.
 
The device can also recognize articles in newspapers, retrieve the latest related stories or video from the Internet and then display them on pages for the user. Say goodbye to your dictionary and encyclopedia.

"You can use any surface, including your hand if nothing else is available, and interact with the data," Dr. Maes added. "It is very much a work in progress. Maybe in ten years we will be here with the ultimate sixth-sense brain implant."
 
According to Dr. Maes, the device is similar to Microsoft's (News - Alert) Surface interactive display tech, with the exception that this gadget is portable and lets the user turn a flat surface or object into an augmented-reality display.
 
Although the device is in the research phase, it does provide a sneak peak into what we can expect in the future of gadgets. In the end, researchers hope the device will be able to provide data access on any object a user comes in contact with, make 3D GoogleMaps seem trivial, and totally transform online social networking.

Michelle Robart is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Michelle's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michelle Robart
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