Eventually the mouse and keyboard will be replaced as our primary way of interfacing with the digital world by something else. Voice input, and pen/finger based touch screens are the most well-known candidates but there are several other more advanced technologies being developed.
One example is I-Tech’s Virtual Keyboard (introduced in 2005) with a red laser that projects a keyboard on to any surface. You type and the sensors will detect the key that got the light blocked. The $170 price tag has prevented this product from entering the mainstream market.
Another example is multi-touch screen technology. An amazing demo at TED from 2006 shows envisioned ways of using it on a high end computer with a large screen. A more simple version of multi-touch has been included in the iPhone since 2007.
The coffee table sized Microsoft Surface is a high end multi-touch product that has been on the market since 2008. The horizontal screen can identify what objects you place on the surface. If you put your smartphone on the screen and drag pictures to the mobile with your finger they will be uploaded to the phone (and vice versa). As long as the price tag stays at $13,500 the market will be limited to casinos, hotels, and eye catching marketing events. Visually compelling video demos from Microsoft are here and here and another from Popular Mechanics is here.
Competing products are the DiamondTouch Table from Mitsubishi, the Malaysian SmartSurface, and the iTable from PQ Labs. A less advanced product with multi-touch is the high end PC model TouchSmart from HP. In the six figure price range the Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall from Perceptive Pixel has customers such as the U.S. military and CNN (they used it in their studio during the presidential election).
These new technologies are amazing and should inspire creative thought about new and unexpected ways of using them. You might find some demo applications silly but the point is to demonstrate the opportunities. It’s up to you, me, and others to discover the killer apps for this technology.
However, the most mind-boggling prototype has been developed at MIT Media Lab by the genius inventor Pranav Mistry in his project SixthSense.
He has a similar vision of blurring the line between the digital world and our physical surroundings and making it possible to access and interact with computers without dedicated input/output interfaces. He uses standard products, and assembles them into a seamless experience with a wearable system connected to your mobile. He uses a mini projector to display text and images on any surface and a camera to scan your hand gestures and objects in front of you. The software for the system will be released to open source developers any day now.
Sit back and enjoy this fantastic presentation from TED India.