I have often criticized the ubiquitous use of increasingly small touch screens, and have pointed out that screens will be obsolete much sooner than most of us realize. They will be replaced by a combination of “walk-in” sensor-rich whole body interfaces and visual projection.
What am I talking about?
Here is an example of what I’m thinking of.
Circret (who promulgates the tag #nomorescreens !) shows a prototype projection system that makes “your skin your new touchscreen.” The projector is in a rugged wrist band, and projects sideways onto your arm. It also detects finger motions (I’m not sure exactly what techniques are used for that), to give you the essential features of a touchscreen—without the screen.
The demo has only a few apps, but it is easy to see that anything a smart hone or watch can do, you can do with this kind of projection.
Circret identifies four key features that are working,
- Projects with a low-angle
- Controllable with the fingers
- Works in bright daylight
- Works in any skin colors (!)
(I’m particularly happy to see the last point—it would be embarrassing to create a “skin-based” system that didn’t consider the variability of actual human skin.)
Their concept demo also notes that this technology can work when wet (they show a user taking a bath), and the wristband naturally supports certain tactile and haptic interactions (vibration, shaking, flipping the wrist).
Obviously, the same technology should work on a tabletop, wall, or any surface. I
Kill the screen
The ergonomics of this look overwhelmingly positive to me. My poor old wrist (already beaten up by decades of keyboard and mousing) are stressed by holding my mobile device(s) for more than a few minutes. If I could do it on my wrist, I’d love it.
This interface does not reduce the distraction and attention hazards (don’t use it while driving). I guess it will work “hands free”, just as conventional mobiles do, though it may be difficult to see the screen if you need to. For example, if your hands are elbow deep in the malfunctioning composter, you can set your tablet to the side to show the instructions (or call for help). Not so easy with your wrist.
The wrist projection is obviously limited to the size of your wrist. This is about right for a smart phone screen, and larger than smart watches. But it is far smaller than a tablet, which is becoming an important interface style. I also note that, in addition to skin color, people have different sized wrists (many of us are elegantly thin or just scrawny). The projection will need to deal with these various surfaces.
Obviously, clothing is an issue. Where I live, we do not expose our skin outdoors in the winter. Of course, our touch screens are pretty iffy in those conditions, too.
But a lot of people do not expose their arms in public or in formal workplaces for various reasons (safety, fashion, cultural teachings). I suspect that this technology can work on smooth cloth, so it might be work working on variants that work on you sleeve.
Fashionable? It will be huge
The prototype isn’t especially pretty, though it’s no worse than a lot of sportsbands and smart watches. It is interesting to think about other versions that might be worn as pectoral bands, on the thigh, or even around the neck or head.
Thinking about a headband, it seems to me that the projection could overlay graphics and text on your face. This isn’t as useful to you, but it could let you project a message and look to others. For that matter, it could invite them to touch your face, to interact with your digital “makeup”. (When I kiss you, your face literally lights up!)
And continuing in this theme, strategically places projectors could provide interactive digital undergarments, projected on your scantily clad body. “Touch me here” says my projection, and when you do, things happen!
Bear in mind that the projection can be connected like a mobile device. Which means that me and my sweetie can have coordinated digital projections. When we are apart, our projectors call to each other, projecting our desire to be together for all the world to see. When we touch, our projections meld together.
Phew! It’s getting steamy in here. A totally new dimension for the concept of “touch” screen. (And whole new horizons for “inappropriate touch” interfaces!)
Maybe I better sign up for a development kit!
I spotted this at The Future of Story Telling.