By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer
Minority Report is a film set in the future, where retina scanners track every citizens movements—from home to office—and machines and humans are closely connected. What makes the movie sleek and futuristic is its depiction of the human-computer relationship. Microsoft took this vision of advanced interactivity in a multi-touch technology world, and has begun the initial steps to bringing it to fruition.
Perceptive Pixel’s founder, Jefferson Han is one of the leaders of this multi-touch revolution. His work with large multi-touch screen displays—purchased by the military and large corporations—is creating fresh and interesting applications for this technology. Microsoft and Perceptive Pixel’s vision are much the same. Microsoft has developed a multi-touch table, called Microsoft Surface, that recognizes objects place on its surface. For example, you can put your camera on the smart table’s surface and all of your pictures will be displayed across the tabletop. Users can then manipulate the photos and push them to other devices, such as a phone or another camera.
Multi-touch technology was born in the 1982, when Nimish Mehta, a researcher at the University of Toronto, developed the first finger pressure multi-touch display. It was almost a decade later until the Pierre Wellner’s breakthrough paper, “Digital Desk,” evolved multi-touch capabilities to support multi- finger and gesture motions. Such milestones lead to advanced multi-touch applications like Microsoft Surface and consumer-grade products.
Grocery store checkouts, laptops, GPS navigators, phones, restaurant computers are some of the many consumer applications for multi-touch technology. The no-push-button, one-surface makes everything from signing for a purchase to sending an order to the restaurant kitchen, efficient. The possibilities for one-surface computing applications are endless as the technology allows for virtual buttons, or signatures, finger gestures, and many other imaginative approaches.
A less utilitarian, but nonetheless “cool” application for multi-touch technology is Apple’s iPhone. The tremendous success of Apple’s phone is a testament to the many applications and imaginative approaches to multi-touch. In January 2007, when Apple debuted the iPhone, mutli-touch technology set Apple’s product apart from its competitors and sold over 13 million units in 2008 alone. Every year there are more and more smart phones building off the success of Apple’s iPhone. Fortunately, Apple’s technology is ahead of its competitors in the application of multi-touch technology.
The future of multi-touch technology is one of ever-increasing integration into our daily lives, whether we’re calling a friend, finding directions, or checking out at the grocery store. Our tabletop will not be the end-all be-all technology that meets all our entertainment, information needs. More likely, Microsoft and Perceptive Pixel’s progress on such technologies are the evolutionary steps towards a single device that narrows the human/computer gap. Expect companies like TacTable, The NUI Group, TouchKit, NeoNode and many more to further innovate and integrate multi-touch into our daily lives.