Microsoft Set to Redefine Interactive Surface and Touch Interaction

Future is unpredictable as ever and remains to be seen as it is but vision and imagination is simply limitless for anything including technology. Microsoft describes its latest vision for future of post-PC world where everything surrounds you can turn into some high-tech in an instant including the static dull wall. In their vision, any walls and other home decors can turns into interactive surface at a snap and touch interaction is redefined once more. From super big touch screen, immense table screen, to the wall-sized interactive surface. Apparently, Microsoft is very optimistic that touch interaction will be one of the crucial key components in future smart living. As the first step into their future vision, Microsoft comes up with Microsoft TouchWall which is said to redefine interactive surface and touch interaction by turning any surface into interactive surface by leveraging on touch screen and bundled software. While the idea of interactive surface is not new at all, Microsoft TouchWall offers a new perspective into interactive surface and touch interaction as it really allows users to interact easily and naturally with any gestures. Measuring 81 inch and 48 inch, the wall interactive surface combines infrared lasers and rear camera to detect movements over the surface. In a way, Microsoft TouchWall also makes a decent alternative for typical interactive surface with digital pens and or software-based interactive surface. However, recent updates indicates that Microsoft has tried and come up with something more experimental and mind-boggling for interactive surface and touch interaction . Instead of using a super big wall-sized surface, they are looking into the possibility to use the real wall surface to create interactive surface. Their recent collaboration with researchers from University of Washington has led into an experiment involving electromagnetic radiation to turn any wall into interactive surface at an instant.

Basically leveraging on the electromagnetic radiation in air and human body, Microsoft and reserachers from University of Washington consider it may be possible to use human body as antenna which emits electrical signals to control systems and devices. In fact, the research finds out that the electrical signal emitted by human body when they touch wall can translate to unique gestures for systems and devices and thus be used to create gesture-driven interactive surface. That aside, they even claim that it may be possible to set the systems or devices to not only detect and process gestures of users but also their distance and location. In other words, the wall serves as sort of medium of transmission and touch interaction between users and systems or devices. Of course, this scenario can only apply if there is some surfaces which comes between the systems or devices and users. In any case, gesture-driven interactive surface may not be universally promising since a lot of interactive surface may also involve visual or sound feedbacks, instead of merely gestures and touch interaction. If this concept of interactive surface will see any future, we may eventually get to enjoy interactive surface anywhere, anytime with any surfaces; opening up to the different level of interaction with systems and devices.

On different note, Microsoft has developed another vision of interactive surface in smaller scale with their mobile products such as Surface tablet. In the first place, Surface tablet is designed with the same vision of facilitating seamless touch interaction with any surface in any sizes. However since touch interaction today is more popular across mobile devices, Microsoft decides to start with small interactive surface instead. Plus, the fact that their ever popular computing platform, Windows, now has entered new page with the introduction of full-touch user interface will also likely to provide great support to extend interactive surface in any way possible. For one, Microsoft collaborates with Samsung to build SUR40 with PixelSense which offers touch interaction in 360 degree interface over table-sized interactive surface. In some way looking like a revamped Microsoft TouchWall in smaller sizes, Microsoft SUR40 is designed to enhance touch interaction in diverse applications including commercial installation such as shopping centers. With more than 50 simultaenous inputs, users can enjoy incredibly fluid and seamless touch interaction over the interactive surface. While it may best fit as table-styled interactive surface, Microsoft claims their latest innovations into interactive surface can be mounted on wall or other fixtures and even furnitures alike. In any case, Microsoft is all set to redefine interactive surface and touch interaction like never before with any surfaces comes alive at single touch. Work or play, interactive surface is everywhere to provide the convenience of touch interaction for your activities. In an extremely optimistic and visionary statement, there may come a day where people can control over any systems and devices with any surfaces coming into contact.

Other interesting development with interactive surface is some efforts from existing interactive surface manufacturers which begin to consider of integrating 3D technology into the interactive surface for advanced realism and more intuitive user experience. With the integration of 3D technology into the interactive surface, users may be able to enhance interactivity with not only systems and devices but also contents. Great example of this kind of applications are in education industry. 3D-enabled interactive surface can offer both touch interaction and effective collaboration as well as effective learning. Nevertheless, touch interaction over something which is not touch-optimized surfaces may pose challenges on its own. For example, it may be the case that there will issue of sensitivity and feedbacks.

Some possible conceptual applications of interactive surface in the future as proposed by Microsoft including wall and desk-based interactive surface in both home and offices which are integrated with multiple systems and devices for both easier interaction and intuitive user experience. Imagine if the coffee table can be turned into some virtual foosball arena at a snap of finger. Or, think how life is much easier when you are out the restaurant to pick out favorite menu from tables for dinner or windows for takeaway. Touchscreen is practically anywhere at home, work, and even on the go. In summary, making interactive surface out of any wall and other surfaces and embracing the entirely new touch interaction altogether may not far away.

(Date: 28 May 2013; Lidya)

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