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Input Devices Displays Hardware Hacking Build Technology

$5 Sensor Turns LCD Monitors Into Touchscreens 98

Posted by timothy
from the later-comes-the-voice-control dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from ExtremeTech: "Researchers at the University of Washington's aptly named Ubiquitous Computing Lab can turn any LCD monitor in your house into a touchscreen, with nothing more than a $5 sensor that plugs into the wall and some clever software." The system works by measuring changes that your hand creates in the electromagnetic signature of the monitor. Surprisingly, it offers some pretty fine-grained detection, too: "full-hand touch, five-finger touch, hovering above the screen, pushing, and pulling." The "$5 sensor" part is mostly theoretical for now to those of us who don't live in a lab, though; on the other hand, "co-author Sidhant Gupta tells Technology Review that the $5 sensor uses off-the-shelf parts, and the algorithms are included in the paper, so it would be fairly easy for you — or a commercial entity — to recreate the uTouch system."
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$5 Sensor Turns LCD Monitors Into Touchscreens

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  • chance for microsoft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by postmortem (906676) on Friday April 26, 2013 @12:39PM (#43558971) Journal

    Because otherwise nobody would pay extra for a touch screen PC with Windows 8

    • by donaldm (919619)

      Because otherwise nobody would pay extra for a touch screen PC with Windows 8

      Actually you are quite right and the product may be very practical for monitors or even HD TV's that don't have touch/gesture capability. The problem I have had with all touch screens is actually the finger marks left on them and for larger screen monitors cleaning becomes an annoyance. A friend of mine recently purchased a Samsung 15.6 in notebook and no surprises it came with MS Windows 8, however this notebook does not have a touch screen and using the display with a mouse IMHO is odd since the main disp

  • They looked at all options before selling touchscreens for massive amounts of money. Oh wait...

    • The resolution of this is actually pretty low, it can detect gestures and proximity but the authors say not enough accuracy to type an email. Of course, being able to do some basic gestures for $5 sounds like a pretty neat hack, especially considering they've posted their COTs parts and algorithms.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        Does it actually detect gestures, or does it really just measure the approximate size of the object pressed against the screen?
  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Friday April 26, 2013 @12:43PM (#43559033) Journal

    It's not really designed to have your finger smashing against it. It better have a hard surface.

  • Hopefully someone makes this a commercial product. I would gladly pay $20 for this.
  • Two words (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hugortega (721079) on Friday April 26, 2013 @12:50PM (#43559145)
    Gorilla Arm ... Well, more ... Why people still believe that desktop computers are good as a touch device? That makes no sense for me, specially because the ugly fingerprints hehe. I love to *work* on my dual head desktop because the speed of keyboard and big resolution. If I have to use a touch device, it's not for work and not on a desktop, really. Anyway, nice research, I have to say.
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Gorilla Arm ...

      Well, more ...

      Why people still believe that desktop computers are good as a touch device? That makes no sense for me, specially because the ugly fingerprints hehe. I love to *work* on my dual head desktop because the speed of keyboard and big resolution. If I have to use a touch device, it's not for work and not on a desktop, really.

      Anyway, nice research, I have to say.

      The first thing that popped into my head was more effective TV controls. Standard IR remotes can only do so much (being low power, needing hard/durable buttons, etc) and are great for vol-up/dn or pause/play, but if there were a way to do some of the more complex interaction on screen it would make the experience overall a lot better (at least until the TV can just know what i am thinking about watching). I use a variety of media devices and being able to just tap on the content i want to see, or type out

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        why do you need a TV control? You already have a smartphone.

    • That makes no sense for me, specially because the ugly fingerprints hehe..

      "full-hand touch, five-finger touch, hovering above the screen, pushing, and pulling."

      The part that intrigues me is that it can be used in a touchless manner. This has excellent potential for cheap kiosks, LCD windows, etc.

      My question is: they appear to be giving away the information for free... so is it patented?

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        First to file - go for it! Maybe they haven't filed any paperwork yet.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        It's possible it's something that cannot be covered by patents due to prior art. This is really just an implementation of Van Eck phreaking [wikipedia.org], but instead of picking up the display signal, they're using it to pick up interference to the TFT matrix.
      • by pspahn (1175617)

        I recall a student from, I believe Texas A&M (not sure at all) that designed what sounds to be like a very similar device. I think I came across the video from something he had listed on Kickstarter... or maybe it was a TED video... I really can't remember.

        Point is, this has already been done before.

    • A monitor that can incline about 70 or 80 degrees would make it a lot easier to use as a touch screen.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      My large monitor is at the back of the desk, and I can't even reach it without leaning over the keyboard, which would make for an enormously awkward touchscreen. I also hate having any fingerprints or smudges on my screen. I also hat having a screen that doubles as a mirror. I also hate gorilla arm. (And I helped develop a touchscreen-based point-of-sale system, so I have plenty of experience with them, so my dislike of them is not based on a lack of experience.)

    • I don't know. When I use my tablet with keyboard in class I don't have a mouse, I just touch a screen location and continue on. It actually feels very natural. It takes a little getting used to again to use a mouse with my laptop. I mean, what's more intuitive that pointing at where you want to go?

      Now, sometimes I want a mouse for certain tasks, like navigating around in apps or games, but having more options available is always awesome. Even better would be a 3-D touch display with Kinect on a tablet with

  • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Friday April 26, 2013 @12:53PM (#43559179)
    Is there any indication this will ever be able to detect position, as opposed to just the size and duration of something in proximity to the monitor?
    • Don't know but I can imagine hw manufacturers adding some kind of sensitivity multipliers or other cheap hardware to a flatscreen's elecrical feed during construction to do detailed proximity analysis, thus doing away with a proper touchscreen altogether.

    • by theIsovist (1348209) on Friday April 26, 2013 @02:02PM (#43560031)
      I was fortunate enough to see all the work that these guys are pursuing (there's some really fun energy monitoring that they've developed, using only a single device to monitor a whole house). From what it sounds like, the sensing systems are very low resolution, useful for exactly what you said. Is something there and how big is it? As the system is just noticing a flux in energy when your hand interacts with the field given off by the monitor, they (when they spoke with us a few months ago) said it seemed unlikely.

      Fun fact though, they've used the same technology to monitor the fields generated by the lights in a room, so you can actually gain a picture of movement in the room based off of only the flux in the lights' power draws. Again, this is very low resolution, but you don't always need every system to be high res.
      • by kermidge (2221646)

        Being able to get good info from changes in light bulbs, for instance, means among other things a great boost for doing some interesting surveillance. Spike a building with a few of the sensors, see where people are; combine that with the short-wave stuff we have, a few other off-the-shelf items, one could gain a complete "picture" of the interior. This could help in hostage situations I imagine. Or big brother.

        These Ubiqitous Computing Lab folks and others are doing some fascinating work. True geeks.

    • by gagol (583737)
      All I want is a monitor that retracts when someone try to put its finger on it to show me something. Extra points if it detects the level of greasiness.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This only detects 5 gestures and is not a full touch screen where it detects touches at different parts of the screen...

    It can still be usefully for some applications but it is not a replacement for a touchscreen...

  • My first idea was that it should work even better in battery power devices, where the only device that uses power is the notebook/cellphone/whatever that uses lcd or display tech similar enough. But in the other hand, CPU/GPU/disk/fan etc also weights there. And shouldn't be them a factor in desktop PCs too?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder if this could be added to an existing touch screen monitor or ATM monitor to steal user input? If anyone has any information on how to do that, I would be *very* interested. TIA.
  • I won't buy one of these until it PAYS me $5 every time I touch it. I really have no desire to touch my monitor.

    • by gagol (583737)
      The sensor could be used to make the monitor move backward when a finger is approaching. There are valid uses... we just need to be creative.
  • Cost (Score:4, Informative)

    by Arkiel (741871) on Friday April 26, 2013 @01:15PM (#43559451) Journal
    5$ sensor. $2,500 software license.
  • Cost (Score:2, Funny)

    by Arkiel (741871)
    5$ sensor. 2,500$ software license.
  • Set one of these up, together with some surveillance, train the device to recognise the mark and where he is (in conjunction with the now mandatory CFL bulbs as well as the tv and computer screens) and when you gets to just the right place - let off the shaped charge. It's clean, capable of discerning whether there is any collateral damage potential (and wait until the mark is alone) and economical as well (only use just the charge you need).
    • I'm not sure bombs are a good assassination tool. Too many traceable parts.
      • by gb7djk (857694) *
        Depends on how paranoid you are and whom you think is out to get you :-)
      • by KGIII (973947)

        Making two bombs with the same equipment is too many traceable parts as well as testing your bombs in an area that can be tied to yourself.

        That's what I have learned from watching television. I haven't any real desire to build bombs. As a kid we used to make explosives and I don't think it was illegal then. These days even those soda bottle, aluminum foil, and toilet bowl cleaner "bombs" are considered illegal. Now that I am an adult and the laws have changed - I can buy fireworks. However, as a kid I'd hav

  • by onyxruby (118189)

    This is bad, who wants gorilla arm from using their monitor? Monitors weren't designed to be touch interfaces for very good reasons. Unless your at a kiosk or a tablet, it's just not practical to use your arms that way. Leave gorilla arm to the 800 pound gorilla that is Steve Ballmer and Microsoft.

    • by Shados (741919)

      As you said, kiosk...conference rooms, presentations, monitors embedded in a desk, designer-style monitor stands (the low, bent ones that let you look at the monitor from overhead), to quickly check your emails in the morning without sitting down...

      Basically, to recycle older monitors and give them new purpose, or any situation where touch would be nice, but you wouldnt be willing to pay more than 10 bucks for it. There's a lot of these scenarios.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Honestly, if using a touchscreen is enough to make a significant visible change in the muscle density of your arm, you really need to go outside. On the other hand, get the touchscreen, build up some arm muscles, and maybe a girl will actually look at you for once.

  • This kind of implementation only allows the system to detect whether the screen was touched or not. There is no directional or spatial information; it is _not_ like a regular handset touchscreen. The applications for this technology are very, very limited in the PC arena. Security companies might want to know, though.
  • ...or I WILL punch you in the mouth. It's impossible to clean it up completely. Nor do I want to.
  • ...do you need fingers to operate it?

    You see, I'm a parrot, and though touch screens are ok (if a little bothersome), I'm seriously annoyed at the Kinect on my new Xbox, which refuses to recognize my beak and toe movements. I wish people would just stick to keyboards; their wholesome nibblyness is superior to any other input device.

  • Why on earth would people want to jam their fingers into their screens? If it is to have some gesture based control, a much better solution is a decent trackpad, which in effect works as a proxy for the screen but in a more ergonomic location.

    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      I'm constantly suprised by the low intelligence and poor thinking abilities of people on slashdot AND their willingness to proudly proclaim their ignorance to everybody.

      First, it's called 'touch'screen. This is not some new immersive technology where you jam your fingers into the screen.

      As a simple use scenario, more than one person around a monitor.

      • I'm constantly suprised[sic] by the low intelligence and poor thinking abilities of people on slashdot AND their willingness to proudly proclaim their ignorance to everybody.

        Me too. Just now, in fact.

        This is not some new immersive technology where you jam your fingers into the screen.

        Some people appear to be trying, though.

        As a simple use scenario, more than one person around a monitor.

        Three cack-handed idiots all dabbing in total uncoordination. That wouldn't be irritating at all.

        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          Suprisingly, some people don't surround themselves with idiots. Those who don't think they have a choice deserve the company they keep.
  • Where can I buy the sensor ?
  • don't let apple get a hold of it, it would turn into a 200 dollar sensor.

  • This is very cool and rather unique solution, but there is considerable lag between the input and the registration of the input. I don't see it being much useful beyond pause/play video or music or to wake up a computer from sleep. That being said, I love the spelling mistake in the powerpoint in the youtube video.
  • To assuage the gorilla arm issue it seems this tech could be configured to make your desktop a large touch pad. A piece of desk glass and some thin wires.....
  • It works by looking at HF signal on power lines. I though FCC regulations prevented devices from sending HF signals on power lines, but obviously it tolerates some remains.

    I wonder how it can be used to extract informations from the computer: what is displayed, what key are pressed, what data is computed?

  • the $5 sensor uses off-the-shelf parts, and the algorithms are included in the paper, so it would be fairly easy for you — or a commercial entity — to recreate the uTouch system and then pay a nice fat royalty to the patent owners for the next 20 years who won't surface until your product is successful.

  • by caspy7 (117545) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @06:08AM (#43566025)

    ...for the screen cleaner & cloth that comes with it.

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