Touch Surfaces Galore

Fleet Commander by Arthur Nishimoto

Along with touch-based handheld electronics (iphone + tablets), larger multi-touch tables, displays and surfaces have grown in popularity over the past few years.  Commonly used in museums, kiosks, exhibit design, and other public installations, large touch-based displays offer new ways of communicating and engaging with the public.  They allow for small groups to share and interact with information using a familiar, natural touch interface.  Here are a few of the technologies used for these types of interactive installations.

Off the shelf options:

Developing a custom, hardware and software solution for a multi touch display can be difficult and time consuming.  Luckily there are some pretty good off the shelf solutions.

Microsoft Surface –

This is perhaps the most well-known of all touch table options.  Since debuting in 2007, Microsoft has been pushing the Surface with a number of awesome tech demos.  With a price drop and a new sleeker design (shown below) I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a lot more of these in the next few years.

Ideum MT55 –

The Ideum is a direct competitor to the Microsoft Surface.  The table contains a 55 inch HD monitor and can track up to 32 touch points at the same time.

Custom Installations –

While the off the shelf solutions above tackle many of the technological challenges of large touch interfaces, they still look and feel a lot like using a computer.  Here are a few examples of custom mutli touch installations that break away from traditional screens.

Over Projection –

Spatial Media Midterm from Michael Knuepfel on Vimeo.

This is a project I did at ITP for a course called Spatial Media.  A camera and projector are placed above the table surface.  The camera detects the objects on the table, and the projector place the graphics accordingly. Over projection is nice because you can place graphics on to non-traditional surfaces for digital content – in this case, a wooden table.

Touch Walls –

This is an amazing demo by Arthur Nishimoto at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bars and Restaurants –

A wine bar installation done by Potion Design.


There is also a fairly larger community of “makers” and hobbyists building custom home-brew touch tables.  One of the most popular techniques known as Diffuse Illumination, uses an IR LEDs and an infrared camera to detect finger touches.  There are a number sites that offer plans for fairly inexpensive touch tables.  Maximum PC has a fairly good write-up outlining their experiences in building a table from scratch.

From Maximum PC:

Maximum PC’s Multitouch Surface Computer from Maximum PC on Vimeo.


For the past few weeks at Euro’s MadScience labs, I’ve been working on an interactive touch table using a kinect to sense objects on the table, and a 3d projector to overlay 3d content on top of the objects.  In the end, we hope to achieve an augmented reality effect without the need for QR codes or a secondary device like a smartphone.  Initial tests are promising, stay tuned!

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