Virtual factory on the tabletop

Dec 03, 2007
Virtual factory on the tabletop
Multi-Touch Tables can be operated intuitively with the fingers by means of multi-touch sensing. The new displays can be used in factories to observe production processes, or in museums to provide visitors with even more instructive information. © Fraunhofer IGD

Many industrial processes involve reactions in places that are difficult to see directly. A novel tabletop touch screen allows hidden sequences of events to be observed in progress. It can be operated intuitively using a combination of fingers and recognizes swiping movements.

A crowd of people is gathered around a large table with an illuminated surface, on which images of a journey through pipes and machines in a factory are being displayed. Users can select individual components by touching the corresponding image with a finger. The objects can be rotated and observed by swiping a finger over them – and the same method can be used to watch a process in slow motion.

By drawing apart their two index fingers on the table surface, users can enlarge the image and zoom in on a detail, such as a bay wheel scooping up hundreds of thousands of plastic granules. The Multi-Touch Table provides a tangible virtual replication of processes that normally take place hidden inside networks of pipes: How does the process work? What are its advantages?

The large, industrial-scale display table was developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Darmstadt. “The table is already being used by the Coperion Group of companies,” relates IGD project manager Michael Zöllner. “It allows customers to observe the entire process chain of plastics manufacturing and processing. They can watch in real time as the granulate flows through the pipes and regulate the speed by swiping a finger over the image.” The researchers worked with colleagues at the Steinbeis Institute Design and Systems on the development of this application.

So how does the touch screen work? Infrared LEDs emit light into the Plexiglas® surface of the display at a horizontal angle. This light is internally totally reflected within the acrylic sheet, which allows none of the light to escape. A finger placed on the surface changes its reflective properties, enabling light to emerge. This light is captured by an infrared camera installed beneath the table. Although the system is based on well-known principles, various challenges still had to be overcome.

“The surface of acrylic sheets is too smooth to resolve finger movements. Our solution was to apply a special coating,” says Zöllner. Another problematic aspect was how to project the images. “To obtain a large, bright, undistorted image, the optical path has to be relatively long – something that is difficult to achieve within the confines of the table below the display. We had to affect the optical path itself, by using mirrors to keep it short,” the research scientist explains. As for the user interface, the researchers made sure that it could be used easily and intuitively. After all, nobody wants to have to follow complicated technical instructions when meeting with customers or visiting a museum.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Firm combines 3-D printing with ancient foundry method

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The super-resolution revolution

Feb 27, 2015

Cambridge scientists are part of a resolution revolution. Building powerful instruments that shatter the physical limits of optical microscopy, they are beginning to watch molecular processes as they happen, ...

Life on Europa? Scientists ponder the possibilities

Feb 19, 2015

When Galileo viewed Jupiter through his telescope in 1610, he saw four dim objects near it that he assumed were stars. Repeated observations revealed that these "stars" orbited Jupiter like our own moon circles ...

Hands-on with Microsoft's hologram device

Jan 23, 2015

Microsoft didn't use skydivers or stunt cyclists to introduce what it hopes will be the next big leap in computing technology. Instead, with its new HoloLens headset, the company is offering real-world examples ...

Recommended for you

Firm combines 3-D printing with ancient foundry method

Mar 27, 2015

A century-old firm that's done custom metal work for some of the nation's most prestigious buildings has combined 3-D printing and an ancient foundry process for a project at the National Archives Building in Washington, ...

Wearable device helps vision-impaired avoid collision

Mar 26, 2015

People who have lost some of their peripheral vision, such as those with retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, or brain injury that causes half visual field loss, often face mobility challenges and increased likelihood ...

Applications of optical fibre for sensors

Mar 26, 2015

Mikel Bravo-Acha's PhD thesis has focused on the applications of optical fibre as a sensor. In the course of his research, conducted at the NUP/UPNA-Public University of Navarre, he monitored a sensor fitted to optical fibre ...

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.