Metaio’s thermal touch prototype provides intuitive interface for augmented reality

[From The Creators Project, where the story includes several more images and a 2:12 minute video; more coverage is available from Geek]

Playing chess with Metaio's thermal touch AR

New Augmented Reality Prototype Can Make Any Object A Touch-Sensitive Visual Display

By DJ Pangburn — May 27 2014

From music apps to Oculus Rift developments, it’s no question that augmented reality is continuously forcing its way into popular consciousness. Yet one of the technological questions to be answered about the increasingly-omnipresent format is the range and scope of how humans will interact with the innovation. Whether it’s smart glasses or other tech products, voice command has proven to be one of the more popular system preferences for AR-human interaction, but what other alternatives are out there?

Enter startup Metaio: a company that is invested in the fusion of augmented reality and thermal technology. Metaio has recently created augmented reality tech with a set-up called Thermal Touch technology, a thermal imaging-driven user interface that could turn any surface into a touch screen with visual effects. The company claims they can [make] “any physical object around you a touchable object, so the world becomes a touch screen.”

Thermal Touch features a pair of cameras, one infrared, the other standard, running on a PC tablet. When a user touches the tablet screen, a heat signature is left behind, which Metaio software reads and interprets as the user’s selection. This means that users would have the ability to, say, physically play chess on a table with a partner sitting across from you, with just a tablet to connect the two players, the desk, and the game. Or you could touch a toy car, and your tablet would respond by creating a variety of visual effects shooting out of the plastic vehicle.

Aside from potentially making any surface a touch-screen, it’s also a clever solution to a common touch-screen problem, where users attempt to navigate by touch, but the tablet or smartphone improperly reads the selection, sending users exactly where they don’t want to be.

“Everyone is talking about wearable computing eyewear,” said Metaio CTO Peter Meier. “But, no one is talking about the best way to actually use those devices. We need natural, convenient interface to navigate the technology of tomorrow, and that’s why we developed Thermal Touch.”

“Imagine pushing directions to your device simply by touching a static map in a shopping mall, building complex or airport,” reads a blog post on Metaio. “Children could bring play to new levels and launch digital content directly from their toys; design professionals could visualize their digital and 3D creations on their real world counterparts; and service technicians could pull up information just by touching an object in real life.”

Metaio cautioned that Thermal Touch is just a prototype at this point, and that the technology is probably still five to ten years away, when even more advanced sensors will be available to augmented reality developers.

In that amount of time, some other technology could disrupt augmented reality interactivity, but Metaio certainly has an interesting idea here. Imagine a future where touch screen isn’t characterized by finger-smudges, but heat-sensitive color responses. Or a world filled with augmented reality, but without the QR codes and specialized apps needed to activate it. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Metaio is exhibiting the Thermal Touch prototype at this year’s Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California, May 27-29.


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