To be sure, Microsoft isn’t the only company building large touch displays. Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories has built DiamondTouch, a touch table for business collaborations. Perceptive Pixel, a startup based in New York that was founded by Jeff Han, a research scientist at New York University, is currently selling giant, wall-sized touch screens that support multiple inputs. And kits that allow a person to assemble her own open-source touch-screen tables are currently available to the general public.
At a Microsoft Research demonstration last week, Wilson showed off some of the software that the company is trying to develop. Some of the more whimsical applications included a chess game that could be played with a virtual partner, and an application that lets people virtually “pick up” objects on the screen. (When a person makes a scooping gesture with his hand, a virtual hand appears on the screen, holding the object that was scooped.)
Wilson also demonstrated new presentation software designed for the touch screen that allowed him to easily flick through slides, resize objects, and navigate through components of his presentation. Presentations call out for touch-screen interaction, he says, because swooping gestures on a large screen provide theatrics that can make a talk engaging.
Microsoft has no plans to commercialize LaserTouch but still hopes that the approach can help spread the development of multitouch applications within the research community.
“It definitely helps everyone to make the hardware as cheap as possible, especially for larger form factors,” says Han. However, he notes that the fidelity of the system needs to be maintained in order to make these new applications practical, and LaserTouch has the potential for errors. “It’s quite easy for fingers and hands to block the sensing mechanism,” Han says. “There’s a real danger of vendors out there rushing to land-grab part of this hot multitouch space with substandard solutions which fall short of the potential of these interfaces.”