Traditionally human interaction with computers has been bound with keyboard and mouse, now next generation of interface technologies are slowly going to end that era
If we look at the graph of advancement in computer technology, we always see an upwardly climb. Be it the processing power, memory or the storage media, all have seen tremendous changes over time, but one aspect hasn’t changed much over the period of time; and it is human interaction with computers which sadly is still bound to keyboard and mouse. Though there have been interface technologies like speech, touch and gestures, but none has been able to replace these two till date. Now the user interaction is not limited to just computers but to an array of multimedia devices like mobile phones, music players, etc. Though touch interface has evolved a lot over the last decade but hasn’t found the mass adoption to replace keyboard and mouse as devices of user interaction. But in case of small devices like smartphones, PDAs, Mp3 players, etc the Touch and Multi-Touch interface has become popular and more readily adopted by users. The Apple iPhone is an example of how Multi-Touch interface has changed the way we interact with devices. Few years back when Microsoft introduced the Surface Computing concept, it brought a paradigm shift in the way users interacted with computers having Surface Computing as the interface. The way computers are evolving today, user interfaces are also bound to evolve. And this year too, at Microsoft Research TechFest 2009, there were quiet a few new innovative user interfaces showcased that are set to mark the beginning of a new era of user interfaces. Let’s take a look at some of the innovations.
Applies To: Everyone
USP: Learn how human-computer interaction will evolve in future
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Google Keywords: SecondLight, Back of device touch, Omni-directional projection, write in air
We know about Microsoft’s Surface Computing. SecondLight takes it a step further and adds another realm of interface to it. The system appears like a regular Surface computer, but there is a second screen of information that is projected but not displayed on the Surface. SecondLight projects images or information and detects gestures in air above the display, which means the User Interface is no longer bound to the display surface. This technology uses same setup as Surface, where IR camera records finger and hand placements of the screen and the display is projected onto the surface using a projector that’s mounted below the Surface’s screen. SecondLight has taken it a step further and added another projector below the screen. Both projectors project their respective information one at a time, towards the screen at the rate of 60 times per second. The switching between two projectors is so quick that it is imperceptible to human eye. Though the display of first projector gets displayed on the Surface’s screen, the display from the second projector can be captured mid-air and seen on translucent screens which can be of plastic or even paper.
For instance on the display surface, the night-sky could be shown but as you hover a translucent paper over the screen, you would see the formation of various constellations and their information. This would be the additional display projected beyond the display surface onto the paper by the second projector. The system can support multi-users, and while displaying a single information on the surface computer’s screen, it can project different information to different users over the screen.
You might have used Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) to see distant starts and galaxies, but imagine if you could control the galaxy. Impossible, but with Omni-Directional Projector you can come near to achieving that. As the name suggests, the projector displays data on the ceiling and the walls, i.e. a 360-degrees view all around the user. In addition to that it allows the user to manipulate through 360-degrees of data through hand gestures and voice commands. So, if you use WWT inside a hemispherical dome, you could be in middle of universe and with hand gestures you could be zooming in and out of galaxies and stars.
This technology uses a projector pointing upwards in the center of the room to project the data all around. And with IR camera sensors placed around the projector’s lens it can detect hand gestures that the user makes, thus providing an interactive virtual display of information all around the user. The system can be used in medical reviewing where a doctor can view the patient’s MRI scans and other digital images of the body parts in an immersive manner so as to diagnose a proper surgical operation.
Write in Air
It becomes a painful task for inputing characters into devices such as XBox connected to a television with no keyboard and mouse attached to it. Write-in-Air is a proof-of-concept technology that will have a television or the display screen with a web-cam attached to it, the user can write the intended character in air by using his finger or a bright object. The gestures will be captured by the camera and fed to a hand-writing recognizer which can list recognition results onto the screen for final selection by the user. The demo shown at TechFest had a system that had a vocabulary of English and numerical characters as well as for Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters as well.
Back of Device Touch Interface
With touch-screen devices we face a problem that at times our finger conceals the display and we inadvertently make a mistake and press for wrong information or make a wrong action.
And as the devices are becoming smaller and much of the area being consumed by the display itself, the touch interaction becomes a problem. To tackle that, the touch interface has been put on the back of the device. As the device is hand-held, using your fingers from behind the display area you provide input for interaction with the device. This would provide a complete view of the display and from underneath the device you could place fingers at right points for input. With the user performing feedback function from back of the device, it can be imagined to have devices that are as small as a button, with one side there is a display while at the backside the surface is for Touch input.