Augmented reality company Metaio is developing "Thermal Touch," a technology that combines infrared and visible light cameras to detect the heat signature from your fingers and turn any object into a touchscreen. The technology could be embedded in the smartphones and wearable devices of the future to offer new ways of interacting with our environment.
Back in 2004, the best-selling mobile phone had a 128 x 128-pixel screen, no camera or Bluetooth, and a whopping 4 MB of internal memory. Ten years from now, smartphones and other wearable devices will in all likelihood push the envelope much further than we can now imagine, by embedding all sorts of advanced, miniaturized sensors.
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Metaio, an augmented reality company based in Munich, believes that thermal imaging cameras will be a staple in the personal electronics of the future, and has developed the prototype of a user interface that relies on them to turn any object into a heat-sensitive touchscreen.
The prototype, currently mounted on a tablet device, consists of an infrared camera coupled with a standard, visible light camera. The device registers the heat signature left by a person's finger when they touch a surface, and then uses augmented reality software to add new interesting, context-sensitive functions that allow users to interact with their environment in new ways and in real time.
For instance, while shopping at the supermarket, you could touch an item and immediately bring up online consumer reviews for that product; design 3D objects and see how they would sit in your room before they're sent to the presses; or even draw the outline of a TV remote on your hand, and then press a virtual button to change the channel or adjust the volume.
One interesting feature is that the technology can easily discriminate between the user actually touching a surface and hovering over it, since the heat transfer is significantly reduced. This could open up even more ways of interacting with the environment (and which are likely to look even more bizarre to an outside observer).
For the time being, the technology is at the early stages and will need years of research before it could be embedded into consumer electronics. Metaio says it will demonstrate a prototype on May 27-29 at the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California.
You can see the technology at work in the video below.