People keep doing clever stuff with touchscreen interfaces, despite a continuing dearth of products bigger than a smartphone that actually include one. Some chaps from the University of Potsdam have been working at making a Microsoft Surface touchscreen computer detect items that aren’t necessarily directly in contact with it:
Each Lumino block has a pattern on its base that identifies its 3D shape, and the Surface table can read them using its four internal cameras that peer up at the acrylic top. That means the computer can build up a 3D picture of what lies on its surface.
The Luminos can also make themselves known to the Surface when they’re stacked up, however. They are packed with fibre-optic threads that ferry the pattern of any block placed on top of another down to the screen. So, although a second storey Lumino isn’t in direct contact with the touch screen, the computer knows it’s there.
As blocks stack up, the risk increases that the patterns from different layers of Luminos will become too jumbled for the screen to interpret. But the fibre-optic bundles are angled so that the pattern visible to the screen at the bottom of a stack includes parts of the patterns of all its blocks. That can allow the screen to recognise stacks up to 10 blocks high.
I really want some hardware like that for use as a combined coffee-table and workbench… though I think I’ll wait until someone other than Microsoft is making them.