inFORM: MIT’s Morphing Table

inFORM table

Have you ever wished your dinner table could pass the salt? Advancements at MIT may soon make this a reality — although it might spill the salt everywhere. Enter the inFORM: Dynamic Physical Affordances and Constraints through Shape and Object Actuation.

While the MIT paper doesn’t go into much detail of the hardware itself, there are a few juicy tidbits that explain how it works. There are 900 individually actuated white polystyrene pins that make up the surface, in an array of 30 x 30 pixels. An overhead projector provides visual guidance of the system. Each pin can actuate 100mm, exerting a force of up to 1.08 Newtons each. To achieve the actuation, push-pull rods are utilized to maximize the dense pin arrangement as seen, making the display independent of the size of the actuators. The actuation is achieved by motorized slide potentiometers grouped in sets of 6 using custom PCBs that are driven by ATMega2560s — this allows for an excellent method of PID feedback right off the actuators themselves. There is an excellent image of the entire system on page 8 of the paper that shows both the scale and complexity of the build. Sadly it does not look like something that could be easily built at home, but hey, we’d love for someone to prove us wrong!

Stick around after the break to see this fascinating piece of technology in action. The video has been posted by a random Russian YouTube account, and we couldn’t find the original source for it — so if you can, let us know in the comments!

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50″ multitouch table is expensive, indestructable

50inchMultiTouch

Wander through a well-funded museum these days and you’re likely to find interactive exhibits scattered around, such as this sleek 50″ projection-based multitouch table. The company responsible for this beauty, Ideum, has discontinued the MT-50 model in favor of an LCD version, and has released the plans for the old model as part of the Open Exhibits initiative. This is a good thing for… well, everyone!

The frame consists of aluminum struts that crisscross through an all-steel body, which sits on casters for mobility. The computer specs seem comparable to a modern gaming rig, and rely on IEEE1394 inputs for the cameras. The costs start to pile up with the multiple row of high-intensity infrared LED strips, which can run $200 per roll. The glass is a custom made, 10mm thick sheet with projection film on one side and is micro-etched to reduce reflections and increase the viewing angle to nearly 180 degrees. The projector is an InFocus IN-1503, which has an impressively short projection throw ratio, and a final resolution of 1280×720.

The estimated price tag mentioned in the comments is pretty steep: $12k-16k. Let us know with your own comment what alternative parts might cut the cost, and watch the video overview of the table below, plus a video demonstration of its durability. For another DIY museum build, check out Bill Porter’s “Reaction Time Challenge.

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AquaTop: a gaming touch display that looks like demon possessed water

AquaTop_touch_displayAre you ready to make a utility sink sized pool of water the location of your next living room game console? This demonstration is appealing, but maybe not ready for widespread adoption. AquaTop is an interactive display that combines water, a projector, and a depth camera.

The water has bath salts added to it which turn it a milky white. This does double duty, making it a reasonably reflective surface for the projector, and hiding your hands when below the surface. The video below shows several different games being played. But the most compelling demonstration involves individual finger tracking when your digits break the surface of the water (show on the right above).

There is also a novel feedback system. The researchers hacked some speakers so they could be submerged in the tank, adding a large speaker with LEDs on it in the same manner. When fed a 50 Hz signal they make the surface of the pool dance.

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Camera-based touchscreen input via an FPGA

piano-hero-uses-camera-based-touch-input

[Chonggang Li] wrote in to share a link to the final project he and [Ran Hu] built for their embedded systems class. It’s called Piano Hero and uses an FPGA to implement a camera-based touch screen system.

All of the hardware used in the project is shown above. The monitor acts as the keyboard, using an image produced by the FPGA board to mark the locations of each virtual key. It uses a regular VGA monitor so they needed to find some way to monitor touch inputs. The solution uses a camera mounted above the screen at an obtuse angle. That is to say, the screen is tilted back just a bit which allows the images on it to be seen by the camera. The FPGA board processes the incoming image, registering a key press when your finger passes between the monitor and the camera. This technique limits the input to just a single row of keys.

This should be much simpler than using a CCD scanner sensor, but that one can track two-dimensions of touch input.

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Ask Hackaday: Are we close to reinventing the keyboard for touchscreens?

minuum-keyboard

We mourn the loss of the physical keyboard with the advent of tablets. After all, we do a bit of typing getting all of these features posted throughout the week. And we kind of blame tablets for the decline of the netbook industry (we still use a Dell Vostro A90 when not at home). But we’re trying to keep an open mind that we may not need a physical keyboard anymore. If someone can come up with an innovative alternative to the Qwerty layout that we are able to learn and can use with speed and without physical strain we’ll be on board. Our question is,  do you think we are close to a screen typing breakthrough?

This question came to mind after seeing the Minuum keyboard shown above. It compresses all of the rows of a Qwerty into a single row, monopolizing less screen space than conventional smartphone input methods. The demo video (embedded after the break) even shows them hacking the concept into a distance sensor and using a graphite-on-paper resistor. Pretty cool. But what happens when you type a word not in the dictionary, like this author’s last name?

You can actually try out the Minuum style thanks to [Zack's] in-browser demo hack. He’s not affiliated with Minuum, but has done quite a bit of alternative keyboard input work already with his ASETNIOP chorded typing project. It’s another contender for changing how we do things.

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Capacitive touch business card

[Jay Kickliter] sent in his latest electronic business card. This time, his goal was to make it much cheaper so he could actually afford to give it away. He did pretty well considering the two week timeline he mentions. This card is using an MSP430 with the capsense library to light up some LEDs any time the card is handled. While he states that it is much cheaper than his last, it is still around $8 a card, so he won’t be tossing these into everyone’s hands.  He does point out though that it is always helpful to have hardware to show off at a hardware interview, and an electronic business card does that job very well.

As usual, you can read more details and download the files at his blog.

Chorded keyboard for touchscreens

For over a hundred years, good typists didn’t ‘hunt and peck’ but instead relied on keeping their fingers on the home row. This technique relies on physical buttons, but with on-screen keyboards used on tablets and other touch screen devices touch typists have a very hard time. [Zach] is working on a new project to bring a chorded keyboard to these devices called ASETNIOP.

Instead of training a typist where to place their finger – the technique used in most other keyboard replacements, ASETNIOP trains the typist which fingers to press. For example, typing ‘H’ requires the typist to press the index and middle fingers of their right hand against the touchscreen. In addition to touchscreens, ASETNIOP can be used with projection systems, Nintendo Power Glove replicas, and extremely large touchpads that include repurposed nooks and Kindles.

If you’d like to try out ASENTNIOP, there’s a tutorial that allows you to try it out on a physical keyboard as well as one for the iPad. It’s a little weird to try out but surely no more difficult to learn than a Dvorak keyboard.

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