You may like the touch input offered by your tablet or mobile device, but imagine if your entire surrounding environment was touch sensitive. This would allow any physical object, including your own body, to serve as a peripheral input surface for digital devices such as cell phones, MP3 players, and gaming systems.
A team of research scientists at Autodesk Research has now made this possible. In collaboration with research intern Xing-Dong Yang from University of Alberta and professor Daniel Wigdor from University of Toronto, research scientists Tovi Grossman and George Fitzmaurice has created a proof-of-concept device called Magic Finger, which allows touch interactions to be carried out on any physical surface.
Magic Finger is a thimble-like device worn on the user’s finger. It combines one of the world’s smallest RGB micro cameras with an optical motion sensor. Together, these sensors allow Magic Finger to not only sense finger input, it can determine what it is the user is touching, such as a shirt, a table, or human skin. This means that you could perform different actions depending on what object you are touching.
The team has explored a variety of interactions and applications that Magic Finger could support. For example, if you ever receive an unwanted call when your Smartphone is in your handbag, you could simply tap the handbag to mute the notification. The Magic Finger could also be used as an input proxy for other wearable devices. For example, tapping on your wrist could bring up your calendar on a head-mounted display such as Google Glass.
The team performed a controlled evaluation of Magic Finger’s capabilities. They collected 22 different textures from a large variety of everyday objects, e.g. table, clothes, skin, phone, etc. They found that Magic Finger can distinguish the tested objects with an impressive accuracy of 99.1%.
Autodesk has shown its continued interest in what the future may hold for how we interact with technology. Before Magic Finger becomes a reality, future work will be needed on miniaturizing the Magic Finger device, and resolving practical issues, such as Midas touch, power, and communication issues.
The work will be published at the UIST 2012 ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. The full paper, and additional details, can be obtained from the Autodesk Research Website.