Light-based multi-touch interface works on curved surfaces

June 18, 2008--With the introduction by Apple (Cupertino, CA) of the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as the MacBook Pro laptop computer, multi-touch interfaces have become big news.

June 18, 2008--With the introduction by Apple (Cupertino, CA) of the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as the MacBook Pro laptop computer, multi-touch interfaces have become big news. Now that hand gestures using two or three fingers can be used to convey complex instructions to an electronic interface, savvy manufacturers have been rushing to create their own versions of multi-touch hardware.

Now, Digital Dash (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) has developed a prototype of a light-based multi-touch interface, called the Reconfigurable Tactile Display (RTD), that the company says is the world's first multi-touch interface incorporating physical controls with a curved display surface. The display is well-suited for use in automobiles, sound-mixing boards, and other control- and image-intensive user interface applications.

The RTD is composed of a rear projector/camera unit and a display/control surface. The projector displays images such as audio controls, maps or other indicators on the screen, including images that interface with the physical controls (knobs, buttons, faders) on the display surface. The camera senses the position of the controls or the user's touch on the screen, eliminating wires and electrical components found in conventional instrument panels. The control surface--which can feature plastic construction and curved or irregularly shaped designs--uses beaded rear-projection film made by 3M (St. Paul, MN) to provide a high contrast, high-resolution image.

With Digital Dash's system, any given screen area, knob or fader can be customized and configured to perform multiple functions, thereby maximizing control panel real estate--for example, for designers of audio production and sound-mixing equipment (audio engineers ordinarily have to contend with dozens to hundreds of tiny knobs; a multi-touch interface with the concomitant audio feedback would present a way for the audio engineer to make adjustments easily and intuitively). In an automobile, the RTD allows for safe integration of all auto-control functions (audio, heating/AC, navigation, rearward camera) in a customizable software-based technology. The RTD is also well-suited for video editing, industrial control, military, and home-control use.

A visible projected image in the RTD is powered by light-emitting-diode (LED) light sources manufactured by OSRAM (Munich, Germany), which the company calls OSTAR-Projection sources. The OSTAR-Projection modules each consist of six red-green-blue (RGB) LED chips. The multi-touch capability itself arises from an infrared emitter made by OSRAM, which floods the display area with infrared light, and a CMOS camera that monitors the surface, sensing touch contact, knob rotations, and button movement at the dashboard or control surface.

Digital Dash's fully functional RTD prototype will be on display at InfoComm 2008 in Las Vegas, June 18-20, at the OSRAM Sylvania booth, #C2118. For more information, contact OSRAM Opto Semiconductors at www.osram-os.com or call 888-446-7726.

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