Touch screen-based interactivity has rapidly progressed from being a desired feature to an almost mandatory requirement for displays utilized in various types of equipment. Vending machines, home appliances, vehicle control consoles and industrial instruments increasingly feature a touch screen. The evolution of human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and computer interfaces (HCIs) is proceeding with simple button on/off controls giving way to advanced gesture-based screen interaction requiring so-called multi-touch operation.
The multi-touch technology revolution essentially began in the year 1982 when the Input Research Group at the University of Toronto, Canada, developed the first human input multi-touch system. Frosted glass panel was used with a camera placed behind the glass. As a result, when a finger or several fingers touched the glass on the otherwise white background, the camera would detect it as an action, thereby registering it as an input. Additionally, the system was pressure sensitive since the size of the dot depended on how hard the person was pressing the glass.
In 2005, Jefferson Han’s presentation of a low-cost, camera-based sensing technique using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) truly highlighted the potential role the technology could play in developing the next generation of human/computer interfaces. Han’s system was cheap, easy to build, and was used to illustrate a range of creatively applied interaction techniques.
In 2007, Apple Inc. changed the face of consumer-electronics market with the release of iPhone, a mobile phone with a multi-touch screen as user interface. The iPhone’s interface and interaction techniques received considerable media attention, paving the way for numerous companies flooding the market with similar products since then. Later that same year, Microsoft announced their Surface multi-touch table, which had the appearance of a coffee table with an embedded interactive screen. Cameras were fitted inside the table that captured reflections of hands and objects as inputs. By employing a grid of cameras, the Surface has a sensing resolution sufficient to track objects augmented with visual markers.
At last year’s CES, 3M debuted its larger-than-life 84-inch Touch System. This “touch table” supports 4K and is currently demonstrating its abilities at Chicago’s Museum of Science. There are reports that a 100-inch version is under development. Multi-touch display technology holds great promise for future product development. By focusing on simplicity in the manufacturing process, cost efficiencies, and effectively using existing technologies, Lemur music controller came into existence— believed to be the world’s first commercial multi-touch display product to market in a time span of only three years.
Undoubtedly, multi-touch technology has reshaped the ways in which we interact with the digital world on a daily basis. As consumer technology continues to evolve, there’s no telling what the future might hold. From smartphones to tablets, multi-touch devices have become a routine part of our everyday lives. Multi-touch PC experiences are well on their way, and Ractiv’s Touch+ is one of many; launched this August. Touch+ by Ractiv enables users to utilize or any flat surface as a controller for their desktop or laptop, similar to that of an iPad or other tablet device. By utilizing the technology that detects a user’s hand movements, Touch+ effectively removes the necessity for a traditional mouse or trackpad, and simulates the experience of using a tablet or touch-screen device on a desktop or laptop.
Multi-touch technology combined with surface computing is radically transforming our relationship with computers. Films like Minority Report, The Matrix: Revolutions, District 9, and Quantum of Solace have all included multi-touch interfacing in their predictions for the future, a future we are already beginning to experience today. One of the most important technological advances of the past five years has been about the interface. As new and improved gadgets become capable of an ever-expanding variety of functions, consumers are equally thinking more creatively about how they interact with them. Usability is a huge priority in technology design. As a result, the world's leading technology manufacturers are investing millions of dollars into making their devices easier to control.
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