Pico projectors might be able to turn any old surface into a display - with varying results of course - but can they turn any old surface into in interactive display and everyday objects into a remote control? No? Well, with LightBeam they can. Developed by a team at Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt, LightBeam pairs a pico projector with a depth-sensing camera to provide some Kinect style interactive control to projected presentations.

The Kinect-like capabilities of the LightBeam system are no surprise when you consider that the prototype the team has come up with makes use of a Kinect sensor to provide motion tracking and depth sensing. Makeshift display surfaces - a piece of paper or a book, for example - can be manipulated within a limited 3D space and the projected image will reorient itself, even rotating when the paper is rotated. The level of detail displayed by the projector can also be altered dynamically relative to the amount of display surface available.

To negate the need to run back to a connected laptop or fiddle with a physical remote when giving a presentation, LightBeam also allows everyday objects to function as a remote control. As demonstrated in the video below, a presentation can be controlled by manipulating an object within the camera's field of vision - in this case, twisting a mug to switch between a Flickr slideshow and a Facebook page.

The team developed the prototype to examine how users would interact with physical objects using the LightBeam system. They found that study participants quickly adapted the idea of using physical objects to control the projection and liked the ability to easily switch between different levels of detail. The study participants also suggested it might be worth binding digital information to physical objects such as physical documents. The team plans to explore this in their future work.

The team will present LightBeam at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2012 to be held in Austin, Texas, in May. The team's paper is available for download here (PDF).

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