Autodesk Shows How to Add Touch to Your PC With Just a Finger

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by Andy Patrizio

Touch-enabled technology has made massive inroads in public use over the past decade – thank you, Apple – but it has an inherent requirement: a screen capable of sensing the touch input in the first place, and they are still pricey.

So what do you do with a device that isn’t touch-enabled? Say you install Windows 8 on a desktop and there is no touch screen or track pad? A new device from Autodesk might be the fix for that problem.

Researchers at Autodesk, the company best known for its computer-aided design (CAD) software AutoCAD used by engineers and architects, teamed with the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto to create a device called the “Magic Finger.”

Autodesk Touchscreen

It fits over one finger roughly in an area the size of your fingerprint and emits a light, similar to a mouse, and tracks those movements as they relate to a touch screen. The device was first shown at the 25th ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts last month.

“Right now, touch is constrained to existing digital devices. We’re reversing the role in touch where it’s no longer a finger interacting with a digital device, it’s a finger that has been instrumented to sense touch. So it’s a touch-sensitive finger rather than a touch sensitive surface. This allows touch on any surface in a user’s environment,” said Tovi Grossman, a researcher at Autodesk.

The device packs of two cameras into the tiny area it already occupies.. One camera is a micro RGB camera that can sense the texture of whatever surface it is passing over, while the other senses motion.

The texture-sensing aspect means the user can program responses based on the texture it senses. Grossman said the camera senses with 99% accuracy on 32 different textures.

One example of its use: an architect can walk through a building and tap on material they like. The Magic Finger senses the material and can add it to an AutoCAD design or place an order for it.

As for the gestures, you could swipe your hand one way and an incoming call would be sent to voice mail, while a different gesture would answer the phone.

The device is just a prototype and it’s still early in the R&D phase. If a device ever does make it to market, there shouldn’t be a limitation on the OS, said Grossman. Most likely it would use Bluetooth to communicate with other devices.

For now, AutoDesk and its partners are continuing to work on the Magic Finger. The main thing they want is to miniaturize it more. Typing with it on would appear to be rather clumsy in its current state. “We want to make it less intrusive on day to day activities,” said Grossman.



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