Invention transforms plain surfaces into low-cost touch screens

Jul 10, 2013
(Right) Asst Prof Andy Khong with his undergraduate student Zaw Lin (left), demonstrating the tracking capabilities of their prototype.

Imagine turning a whiteboard, glass window or even a wooden table top into a responsive, touch sensitive surface. A low cost system developed by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), based on the principles of vibration and imaging that is able to track the movements of multiple fingers and of objects, can do just that.

Retrofitting the system onto existing flat-panel TVs will transform it into new, touch sensitive display screens, at only a fraction of the cost of new touch-sensitive display screens, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Once hooked up to a computer, the modified TV screens can then be used as interactive billboards, mall directories and even as a digital whiteboard which can track what is drawn or written.

NTU Assistant Professor Andy Khong, who led the research, says this award-winning system has been proven on different types of large surfaces. The team won the Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2012, presented by The Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES) last December.

"Our innovative system is able to transform surfaces such as wooden tables, aluminium, steel, glass and even plastics into low-cost touch screens. It means in future, you could play computer games or draw sketches on walls or windows since almost all surfaces can be made touch-sensitive with our system," says Prof Khong.

The technologies developed for the system have already led to several academic publications, patents and conference papers. The latest research findings were published earlier this month in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) journal. IEEE is the world's largest professional association for the electrical and electronics industry and its journal is renowned for its peer reviewed and quality research papers.

How it works

Named STATINA (Speech Touch and Acoustic Tangible Interfaces for Next-generation Applications), this interdisciplinary research project exploits principles of vibration waves propagating on a solid surface.

By using a few low-cost vibration sensors and a specially developed algorithm, the system can pinpoint the location of a light tap on any surface. When further equipped with low-cost web-cameras, this system can also track the movements of multiple fingers or objects on any surface.

Since sound waves propagate through matter at a certain speed, it is possible to derive the location of the touch based on when each sensor picks up the signal, Prof Khong added.

In addition to understanding the mechanics behind solid wave propagation, the scientists had developed a unique signal processing algorithm to figure out the exact location of the initial point of impact.

Future plans

STATINA is the culmination of Prof Khong's research spanning the last four years. He and his team of researchers are now working to commercialise their invention by developing a more compact system and expanding its capabilities to include tracking of fingers and stylus movements using optical cameras.

So far, they have tested their system on surfaces such as wooden tables, aluminium, steel, glass and plastics.

Initially funded by the Media Development Authority (MDA) under the National Research Foundation (NRF) Co-Space grant call, the team has also recently been awarded the NRF Proof-of-Concept grant, which awards innovative research of up to $250,000 for the development of a commercially viable prototype based on their initial research. They are also working with the Institute of Technical Education under the Ministry of Education Translation Innovation Fund (MOE-TIF).

Explore further: Cadillac CT6 will get streaming video mirror

More information: Reju, V. et al. Localization of Taps on Solid Surfaces for Human-Computer Touch interfaces, IEEE Transactions on Multimedia.

Related Stories

Invention allows clear photos in dim light

May 30, 2013

Cameras fitted with a new revolutionary sensor will soon be able to take clear and sharp photos in dim conditions, thanks to a new image sensor invented at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Apple wins multi-touch and glass process patents

Dec 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—The US Patent and Trademark Office has published thirty-six patents granted for Apple. Patently Apple has highlighted two of those patents. One has to do with multi-touch displays. The multi- ...

Recommended for you

Cadillac CT6 will get streaming video mirror

9 hours ago

Cadillac said Thursday it will add high resolution streaming video to the function of a rearview mirror, so that the driver's vision and safety can be enhanced. The technology will debut on the 2016 Cadillac ...

Poll: Americans skeptical of commercial drones (Update)

Dec 19, 2014

Americans broadly back tight regulations on commercial drone operators, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, as concerns about privacy and safety override the potential benefits of the heralded drone ...

Cheaper, more powerful VR system for engineers

Dec 17, 2014

It's like a scene from a gamer's wildest dreams: 12 high-definition, 55-inch 3D televisions all connected to a computer capable of supporting high-end, graphics-intensive gaming.

Nokia HERE prepares maps for autonomous cars

Dec 17, 2014

Autonomous cars will need a new kind of map, a crucial element that until now has been given a back seat to the more popularly discussed issues of sensors and legal questions. Senior Writer Greg Miller in ...

Dutch launch 'intelligent bicycle' that warns of danger

Dec 15, 2014

The Netherlands on Monday launched its first-ever "intelligent bicycle", fitted with an array of electronic devices to help bring down the high accident rate among elderly cyclists in the bicycle-mad country.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.