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.

A tale of (un)bricking a $10k Microsoft Surface unit

We’ve all had that sinking feeling as a piece of hardware stops responding and the nasty thought of “did I just brick this thing?” rockets to the front of our minds. [Florian Echtler] recently experienced this in extremis as his hacking on the University of Munich’s Microsoft Surface 2.0 left it unresponsive. He says this is an 8,000 Euro piece of hardware, which translates to around $10,000! Obviously it was his top priority to get the thing working again.

So what’s the first thing you should do if you get your hands on a piece of hardware like this? Try to run Linux on the thing, of course. And [Florian] managed to make that happen pretty easily (there’s a quick proof-of-concept video after the break). He took a Linux kernel drive written for a different purpose and altered it to interface with the MS Surface. After working out a few error message he packaged it and called to good. Some time later the department called him and asked if his Linux kernel work might have anything to do with the display being dead. Yikes.

He dug into the driver and found that a bug may have caused the firmware on the USB interface chip to be overwritten. The big problem being that they don’t just distribute the image for this chip. So he ended up having to dump what was left from the EEPROM and rebuild the header byte by byte.

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Update: using your forearms as a UI

This image should look familiar to regular readers. It’s a concept that [Chris Harrison] has been working on for a while, and this hardware upgrade uses equipment which which we’re all familiar.

The newest rendition, which is named the Omnitouch, uses a shoulder-mounted system for both input and output. The functionality is the same as his Skinput project, but the goal is achieved in a different way. That used an arm cuff to electrically sense when and where you were touching your arm or hand. This uses a depth camera to do the sensing. In both cases, a pico projector provides the interactive feedback.

There’s a couple of really neat things about this upgrade. First, it has a pretty accurate multitouch capability. Second, it allows more surfaces to be used than just your arm. In fact, it can track moving surfaces and adjust accordingly. This is shown in the clip after the break when a printed document is edited in real time. Pretty neat stuff!

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