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Open-Source Multitouch Display 62

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the yes-she-knows-it's-a-multipass dept.
shankar writes "Engineers at Eyebeam, an art and technology center based in New York, have created a scaled-down open-source version of Surface, called Cubit. By sharing the Cubit's hardware schematics and software source code, the engineers are significantly reducing the cost of owning a multitouch table. 'Multitouch displays are not new technology; in fact, they've been built in research labs for decades. Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs created an iconic multitouch table called DiamondTouch; more recently, Jeff Han, founder of Perceptive Pixel, based in New York, developed wall-sized multitouch screens that he sells to corporations and major government agencies. But because of the falling costs of many touch-screen components, such as infrared light sources and small cameras and projectors, it's now becoming feasible for people without access to a lab or venture-capital money to make their own multitouch displays.'"
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Open-Source Multitouch Display

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  • I don't want to sound like a hater here, but what are the benefits other than saying it looks nifty? A table that is a giant touchscreen is nice in that anyone can interact, but does it have to be multi-touch? Do multiple people need to navigate on the same screen at once?

    To an extent, I'd suggest it would be better to use a Webex session, and allow each user their own interface allowed a shared session. MUCH cheaper and easier to pull off. Heck, the people don't have to be in the same room unless you w
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zappepcs (820751)
      I think the answer that you are looking for is that it allows joe sixpack (joe bloggs) to use a computer in a more natural fashion. Personally I manage to type at about 45-50 wpm and keyboard shortcuts as well as some mouse effects make me quite a bit more efficient than the low end of computer skills users.

      With a multitouch surface and appropriate desktop UI software, it allows anyone to do things that they would be hindered in doing with keyboard and mouse. This type of interface is much more intuitive in
      • I'm a little skeptical at this point that a multitouch display will be faster than a keyboard and mouse for most tasks. I've used touch screens, and they are faster than a mouse for certain tasks, but they are also frustrating and often cumbersome.

        I type around 80 wpm, and I bounce back and forth between keyboard and mouse, depending on which is faster for a given task. I've even become really accustom to hitting Win+R or Alt+F2 and then typing a program name, as opposed to using a Start or KDE Menu, and
        • by zappepcs (820751)
          No, you are right on target. That is why I said that the people it will help the most are the ones least able to afford it.

          Whether it is for multiple people or not, it does change the interface for the computer to a more 'natural' environment. You and I and many others are quite adept with mouse and keyboard for one reason or another, but joe bloggs is not. It is joe bloggs that it will help the most. In a "failure mode test" (TM) it will succeed where keyboard and mouse do not. Think of the physically impa
          • Think of the ... mentally handicapped.
            And the other .05% of the blogosphere will just use their keyboards and mice.
          • What if they were cheap enough to use in highways, streets, and even sidewalks to allow detailed analysis of human traffic patterns.

            Smart sidewalks. Wow. Where did I park my car? Just check Googleped!
        • by gregmark (750089)
          You are mistaken. Recently, my 55-year-old aunt, a Boston College Law School grad, called me to ask me how to copy a URL link into an e-mail message. Now, she used *none* of those words in her request, so it took me some time to translate.

          The answer to her question was simple of course (on a Mac: CMD-L, CMD-C, CMD-`, CMD-V). But my instructions fell on deaf ears for two reasons: one, she didn't understand how to perform keystroke combinations and two, she didn't understand that her e-mail client was just
          • You're saying we need to design a slower and worse interface around the lowest common denominator?

            Little kids learn how to use a keyboard with no problem. Just because older folks are scared of technology doesn't mean we should cater exclusively to them.

            I couldn't explain the concept of a mouse to my grandmother, because she didn't get why you would need to point on a computer. Should we cater everything to her?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Peganthyrus (713645)
          Maybe the problems it can solve are just not ones you ever have?

          I'm an artist. When I do art in the real world I'm working on a big surface. When I do art in the computer I'm squinting at it through the lens of my laptop screen. I would much rather spend about $1000 for a table-size display I could draw directly onto than the $2500 a 21" Cintiq tablet would cost.

          If your main use for the computer is "writing" - whether it be code, text, mail, irc, or whatever - then yes, a keyboard is your best choice.
          • Surface is much, much more expensive than a tablet. You're saying you want the benefits of a Cintiq tablet, but much larger, and cheaper.

            Wait 10 years.
            • Or why I want to play with homebrewing one. These things aren't that much more than a big piece of acrylic plus a projector and an IR camera. And a big slab of acrylic with a light beneath it is handy for ANY artist!
      • Personally I manage to type at about 45-50 wpm ...

        As a side note, I'd wager that you never learned to type properly. Put another way, there is no reason why someone who can type at 45 wpm shouldn't be typing at 65 wpm minimum comfortably and with increased accuracy.

        Not worth the effort? Perhaps, but consider the time required for a course and some initial practice versus gaining a 50% improvement in speed for the rest of your typing days.

        Me, I took typing class way back when in high school because I thoug
        • by zappepcs (820751)
          DUDE! you are SOOOO wrong.
          In high school I was the ONLY guy in the typing class. I took it because I figured some how, some way, I'd be working with computers some day.

          Yes, back then I could hit 60wpm pretty good. Now, I'm just a little lazy really. If I wanted to be faster I would.

          I've been to meetings where when asked if I'll share my notes and I reply yes, everyone else (including the secretary types there) will shut down their notebooks. I type and talk at the same time and only fuck up if I look at the
        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          I just want to chime in here and say that when I put my fingers on the home keys, it causes me physical pain. I have gigantic hands (on most keyboards I can press the two control keys with one hand without depressing their neighbors) and as no one makes a keyboard large enough for me, it is impossible to touch type. Perhaps one day I will get a chorded keyboard, but until then, you will be wrong :P
      • by pipingguy (566974) *
        I think the answer that you are looking for is that it allows joe sixpack (joe bloggs) to use a computer in a more natural fashion.

        Is there a "natural fashion" to use a computer?

        As a drafting table-trained draftsman (back 25 years or so ago) I had to learn how to interpret the real world at a small scale. Going to CAD and a 14" screen was tough because I couldn't see the extents of my normal 22"x34" (or larger - some older P&IDs were on scrolls many feet long) field of view. Later I used dual 21" C
        • by gregmark (750089)

          On the other hand, old draftsmen will be all dead soon, so this perception of natural will go away.

          One day, the old draftsman will be the computer users who cut their teeth using programs like ed, vi, emacs, pine, and even old Word Perfect 5.1. I've spent the last 20 years searching for keyboard shortcuts for every application that I depend on. It's actually hard for me use more "natural" approaches like multi-touch.

          But it's probably the way to go. As much as I like vi, its command/mode syntax is basically an abomination.

          • by pipingguy (566974) *
            Bah, keyboard command input is the way to go for CAD, and certain companies keep moving around and redefining the cute icons so that veterans that don't follow all the latest trends get lost with new releases.

            When I see a 35 year veteran stumbling around trying to plot a 22x34 to scale I know something's wrong.

            Many changes are/were made to uncomplicate the work of CAD support drones, not for the fricking guys/gals that actually do the REAL work. That was a nice sneaky slide into making ones self irrepla
    • by calebt3 (1098475)

      does it have to be multi-touch?

      Very likely. Have you ever tried multi-touch actions on a normal touchpad? The cursor moves with the center of a the all the points you are touching. On a 3" pad this isn't so bad, but once you start getting a screen-sized surface or larger, tracing just your index finger all over the place feels rather limited.
    • by Blighten (992637)

      Well, when it comes down to it, surface computing will not be optimal for the typical paradigms that we have grown to love/hate with keyboard/mouse interaction. A single-touch device is basically applying/mapping an already solid interface (the mouse) to a lesser approach. The whole point of multi-touch technology is to break away from the typical one-process-at-a-time task, and move into the realm of a computing adapting itself to the user's preferences.

      I've had the chance to play around with the MS surfac

      • by humphrm (18130)

        In short, I think that multi-touch is a much better approach to computational collaboration that the single node per user approach... but one has to realize that it's still in its infantile state (for a typical, off-the-street user).

        Indeed, and I think before it matures we're going to have to figure out what "a much better approach to computational collaboration that the single node per user approach" means.
    • by Lazarian (906722)
      One neat application for a touchscreen table would be for a gaming table with the equivalent of board games running on it. You could have a regular coffee table when it's off, and have an assortment of games when company comes over. You wouldn't have to worry if someone spills a drink on the table or if pieces are lost. It probably wouldn't be hard to have display components that have a limited aspect ratio so opposing players wouldn't be able to see parts of the game for ones that require it.
      • by Lazarian (906722)
        (oops - meant to say viewing angle, not aspect ratio.)
      • I've really been wanting to do this. Maybe even have the table recognize actual game pieces and change the board to match.

        I have an overhead projector, a few 15" LCDs, some projection lenses, and some Lexan. Alas, it seems I'll have to wait to see if this Cubit thing will be helpful to me.
        • by neomunk (913773)
          I've been thinking about this too, and the answer to your problem is a infrared base for your pieces. Each piece could have a little infrared led in the base and a unique template on the very bottom that your under-mounted IR camera could see and interpret.

          It would be really neat for games like Axis and Allies or Warhammer variants.
    • I don't want to sound like a hater here, but what are the benefits other than saying it looks nifty? A keyboard is nice in that anyone can interact, but does it have to enable simultaneous keypresses? Do multiple people need to navigate on the same computer at once?
      There, I clarified why your question was short-sighted.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Most people have more than one finger. Multitouch is important for intuitive gestures. Gestures are pretty critical for touch screens.
      • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
        Personally I don't find it intuitive at all to use more than one finger in gestures. eg. the iphone - I used the pinch thing once and abandoned it (the double click action is much better).. it's just feels like a totally unnatural thing to do.. Same with using two fingers to double click on the MBP... just not a natural way of thinking about it.
        • by peragrin (659227)
          and I had exactly the opposite. I picked up the iphone and was resizing images and pages quickly. Of course I can get used to any GU OS in seconds so I am hardly a good example.

          you are right about the double click though, a double click is a double tap.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)
          Two fingers to double click on a MBP? I've apparently never found that setting. It's two fingers to right click, or to scroll. Both are fantastic. Everybody I've shown it to love them as well.

          Despite your preferences there are many people who like multitouch gestures. Probably a majority.
    • by torpor (458)
      Its good for musicians, dude. Think about it - you want to create a nice software synth. Do you only allow the player to modulate one parameter at a time (as is the case now with mouse-based soft synths) or should there be more performance? The performance is the key ..

  • by HaeMaker (221642) on Friday May 02, 2008 @09:43PM (#23281622) Homepage []
  • but the ways that it is being used are. With more powerful processors being smaller and cooler, now devices like the iPhone and the Surface can be built. In addition, these devices have only really become applicable in a time where people are already linked by technology, not 20 years ago when there was no processing power for such a device. One of the more interesting features of Surface is that it can detect digital cameras or cell phones placed on it and (somehow) download photos and videos from it, this
    • Surface's syncronization power really isn't that special, though. It is essentially over Bluetooth, using "placing the device on the Surface" as a sort of trigger for the wireless connection to be initiated. It is a completely arbitrary thought, given that technologies are there to detect and synchronize devices as soon as they enter range, without the need to explicitly place them on the screen.

      Seamless synchronization, which can be achieved with any of today's operating systems, is functionally beyond Sur
      • Automatic synchronisation is pretty trivial. I used to have a script on my PowerBook that was triggered whenever my phone entered range and ran iSync if it hadn't sync'd for more than 24 hours.

        The nice thing about a multitough table is that it can extend the user interface of devices placed on (or near) it. Making syncing trivial is important, but being able to transfer a subset of the data is also important. You can put your phone and a friend's phone down on the table and have it display a larger vi

    • Exactly. Not every multi-touch device is a copy of the Surface. The Microsoft Surface [] (disclosure: that's my site) has the ability to connect wirelessly with devices on the table, and even identify their location on the table itself. There is no language in the UI, so anybody from anywhere in the world can operate it. It's actually a rather nifty idea, and the whole multi-touch thing is not it's only feature.
      • Are yu saying surface has no instructions whatsoever built in?

        Between that and Microsoft's need for special effects in order to show it to people, I'm sure everyone will be using it real soon.
        • I haven't gotten my hands on a Surface yet, but from the little I've seen there does not seems to be any built in documentation, at least, not yet. Though, I doubt that they will be simply bolted in and forgotten: there may be a small card or some other instruction nearby. Don't forget, the surface, in it's current form, is not intended for the home market. It is intended for hotel lobbies, bars, and other public places. Just think of the security [not] potential!
  • Cubit Websites (Score:3, Informative)

    by crf00 (1048098) on Friday May 02, 2008 @10:34PM (#23281812) Homepage
    Here are Cubit's project websites: [] []
  • mr. lee (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 02, 2008 @11:07PM (#23281916)
    johnny chung lee's had it down for years:
  • by seandiggity (992657) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @12:01AM (#23282134) Homepage
    Seriously. Even if they just get the fire/water effects of compiz going with a device like this, it would be much more awesome than the demo videos. Could have a small table like this as an input device, and a larger screen to show all the compiz coolness. I don't have the requisite skills, but I hope someone in the community hears me :)
  • I researched multi-touch homebrews a couple of years ago after seeing this video: []

    Figured it was frustrated total internal reflection at work and managed to find out that the concept is pretty much unpatentable due to prior art. Not very often you see that!

    That video does go to show that 'nifty' goes a lot farther than just computer based interaction. I'm imagining some cool new video game concepts, like virtual air-hockey or pong, plus games whose imputs might be be
  • The display is very cool. But has anyone here looked at the openFrameworks library that they used in building the software? People are doing some things with it that I, at least, have never seen before, by the looks of this video (which I found by linking through their site): []
  • NUI Group has been doing this for a while. They have an active community of amateurs as well for anyone interested. []
  • python based, ebuilds for gentoo & other distros

    check out libavg []

    and for early examples of this, check out sony's holowall - over 10 years old:

    holowall []

  • Ah yes, the surface... []

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.