ZeroTouch: New kind of infrared touch computer interface (w/ video)

May 12, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Zero-thickness visual hull sensing with ZeroTouch

( -- Students from Texas A&M have unveiled a project they’ve been working on for the past couple of years they call the ZeroTouch; a device that looks like an empty picture frame and uses embedded LEDs and infrared sensors to translate human movement into computer commands. Taking the technology behind the Microsoft Connect a step further, the ZeroTouch can be laid flat on a table, mounted on a computer screen or hung in the air; each for a completely unique purpose. When laid flat, it can be used as a drawing board, when mounted over a regular computer screen it can be used as a touchscreen device, and when hung in the air it can be used as a virtual canvas for painting.

To do its magic, the ZeroTouch has LEDs and infrared sensors (similar to the technology used in television remote controls) mounted around the periphery of the frame, which are then connected to a computer that crunches the constant stream of data coming in from the sensors; when a finger or other device is introduced into the invisible plane, the infrared signals sent from LEDs on one part of the frame are blocked from reaching the complementary sensors on the opposite side, which is then interpreted as a touch.

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On display at the Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference this past week, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the ZeroTouch, invented by Jonathan Moeller, was demonstrated by various students working on the team, which was led by Andruid Kerne.

In contrast to other touch type screens, such as those on the iPhone or iPad, the ZeroTouch requires no pressure to be exerted, which can mean less muscle fatigue if used over a long period of time; and because it can be used in more than one format, the ZeroTouch is far more versatile; when placed alone on a table for example, it might be used as a drafting device, replacing far more expensive options; and its application as a virtual painting canvas, while unique, is certainly not it’s most engaging feature; that would have to be the ability to place it over a conventional screen, instantly converting it, very cheaply, into a touchscreen device.

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Also, according to Moeller, the “ZeroTouch is a full multi-touch sensor, and it tracks 20+ fingers in its current configuration, meaning pinch and spread gestures are entirely possible, as are many other high degree of freedom gestures.” He also said in a prior interview that he and his team are working on a three-dimensional device where multiple frames are laid atop one another, that he says, should allow for a much higher degree of dexterity. It should also allow for hovering and 3-D hand manipulation of virtual objects, both of which are not currently available with any touchscreen device.

Explore further: Bringing history and the future to life with augmented reality

More information:

-- Interface Ecology Lab exhibiting multifinger ZeroTouch sensing at ACM CHI in Vancouver

Correction/Update: Jonathan Moeller should have been credited as the inventor of the ZeroTouch, as he was not just a research assistant on the team. Also, according to Moeller, the "ZeroTouch is a full multi-touch sensor, and it tracks 20+ fingers in its current configuration, meaning pinch and spread gestures are entirely possible, as are many other high degree of freedom gestures."

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User comments : 13

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1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
This is 30 years old if not older.
not rated yet May 12, 2011
Vendicar_Decarian: That explains why I never heard of it. ;)
not rated yet May 12, 2011
Could a computer from 30 years ago even handle that amount of data at 60fps? or 30fps? or 0.1fps?
not rated yet May 12, 2011
He is right in the fact that Infrared and LED technologies were around 30 years ago... As for anything else? Sources V_D.
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
YES - infrared touch systems are ancient (used carroltouch IR back in the 80s before the PC was released). Several inaccuracies above: acoustic wave can provide the functionality and also does not require a physical touch. I see nothing that was "invented" here - I worked with some real engineers that developed a single array of IR LEDs to do the same (the item above uses 2 arrays - one for X and one for Y - how can it be done with 1? think it through and it will become obvious! I see no innovation in the article above. @jaeherys - you have to be kidding! you can select 60 touch points in a second? haha.
BOTTOM LINE - there is nothing new in this article.
not rated yet May 12, 2011
Research team: "Hi we'd like a grant to come up with a touch screen device"
University: "Okay here's a lot of money. You have a year"
11 months of procrastination later...
Uni: "So how's that touch screen coming along?"
Team: "Oh err that thing... yeah... GREAT..."
*quickly knock up the easiest way to do a touch screen over the weekend...*
5 / 5 (2) May 12, 2011 is the email address of the above spammer, please send them a thank email saying how much you appreciate their advertising practices
not rated yet May 12, 2011
You can do more than just simulate a click. They used painting as an example where you would need a decently high input rate to do anything with it.
not rated yet May 12, 2011
yea @Jaeherys,
I'm picturing the way it will look when it's a 3D system, and imagining a way it could be used. (perhaps a bit like Minority Report)?
How would you get 2D movements with only 1 array? You got me... I left CS awhile ago and haven't created an algorithm in a long time. Perhaps the answer is something like still have an X and Y strip but only one array in the algorithm, or am I thinking about this in the wrong way?
not rated yet May 12, 2011
@jaeherys - you have to be kidding! you can select 60 touch points in a second? haha.

60 touch points in a second? How many "touch points" would you consider a fast brush stroke from one side of the array to the other in less than a second to be?
5 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
with depth arrays practice of special eye hand techniques, as in surgery, art,??
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
"Vendicar_Decarian: That explains why I never heard of it." - Smartk

History doesn't care what you have heard of.

In the 80's this is the principle manner in which inexpensive touch screens were implemented.
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
"Could a computer from 30 years ago even handle that amount of data at 60fps?" - Ahem

They didn't provide multitouch 30 years ago. But a even a 1 mhz CPU can do several hundred scans per second at resolution of this device.

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