Hey – have a touch of this!

When I visited MIT’s Media Lab last year, among the many exciting, mystical or practical things we saw was the work of the Tangible Media group which mix physical and computer-generated interactions to enable people to model and understand the physical world. Sandscape, for example.

Shortly after that, I became aware of Microsoft’s Surface, an interactive touch-driven table-top display. In the video, touch allows users (for example) to drag images around, group displayed objects together, and so on. It’s different from the MIT table in that it is a display screen, not a collection of physical objects. I suppose it’s not that different in principle from what you could do on a large screen with a mouse, but the table top is an easy collaborative working paradigm and fingertips are an instinctive pointing device. And it’s expensive!

And, of course, there’s the iPhone.

MIT’s Technology Review today reports on a group who are designing multi-touch systems in an Open Source project. The scaled-down version is called Cubit and led by Addie Wagenknecht of Eyebeam. Eyebeam is an interesting organisation that aims to incubate ideas by bringing artists and technologists together. It’s based in New York, not Silicon Valley.

Surface “has an image projector, infrared-light emitters, and five cameras nestled in its base”, as TR explains it. Cubit uses less technology, and off-the-shelf components such as an ordinary webcam. And the report, ahead of a forthcoming California exhibition, lists three or four other such multi-touch projects.

Click the links below for the more, and the why.

Open-Source, Multitouch Display Technology Review, 1 May 2008
Microsoft Surface
Cubit from Eyebeam (click through links for other material including a video)
Sandscape (MIT Media Lab, Tangible Media group)
Maker Faire 3&4 May,San Mateo

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