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Futuristic touch

ZeroTouch technology offers surface-free sensing

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07

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Photo by James Thompson — THE BATTALION

ZeroTouch, a multi-touch sensing technology that requires no touch surface developed by the A&M Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is constructed of 256 infrared sensors and 32 LEDs, and gives users hands-on experiences with new technology.

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Photo by James Thompson — THE BATTALION

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James Thompson — THE BATTALION

The ZeroTouch technology uses sensors that can be placed on top of any display to enable multi-touch sensing.

Imagine a world where any surface could be touch-screen, where computers or televisions transform into giant tablets. Now imagine the ability to command a device without even needing a touch pad. The Interface Ecology Lab in the A&M Department of Computer Science and Engineering has developed multi-touch sensing technology that requires no touch surface.

Jon Moeller, co-developer of ZeroTouch and computer science graduate student, said the technology uses sensors that can be placed on top of any display to enable multi-touch sensing on the display.

“There is no touch surface with ZeroTouch, so you can hang the frame in mid-air and use it Minority Report-style. It can track objects or styli [pens], so we can use it for that too,” Moeller said.

The 27-inch ZeroTouch frame has 256 infrared sensors and 32 LEDs to detect motion. The sensors are assimilated with high resolution pixels and can support interaction with multiple fingers and hands at a time. The motion of objects is tracked as they pass through an invisible two-dimensional optical web.

Moeller works as a research assistant to Andrew Kerne, associate professor and director of the Interface Ecology Lab. Moeller said with Kerne’s strong experience as well as collaboration with researchers in the lab, the team assembled the frame, which uses low-cost infrared emitters and allows for detection at intersections within the frame.

“ZeroTouch enables real-time sensing of fingers and hands, even in the presence of strong ambient light,” Moeller said. “Our use of wide-angle optoelectronics allows for excellent touch resolution, even in the corners of the sensor.”

Moeller said a prototype related to ZeroTouch was first developed in 2009 and while the technology is constantly advancing, they are now at a stage where it is marketable and ready for early production.

Jamie Rhodes, director for new ventures for the Office of Technology Commercialization at A&M, said they will complete the patent filing for ZeroTouch within the week.

“We are excited to commercialize the technology and license it to companies,” Rhodes said. “We’ve already begun the process of forming a company around the ZeroTouch.”

Moeller said the company will work with larger companies such as LG, Samsung and Apple to integrate ZeroTouch with their products.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to start a company around such a revolutionary technology. Kerne and the Interface Ecology Lab have provided an excellent environment for developing the ZeroTouch technology and supporting my research,” Moeller said. “It’s been a fun journey writing the patent because the language in patent law is so esoteric and specific, but at the same time, it’s been a wonderful learning experience.”

Moeller said researchers are currently working on aspects of ZeroTouch to allow for a more streamlined look and easier integration on different interfaces.

“We have a new revision of the modules under production right now, which will enable us to make sensors for the larger HDTVs on the market, 65” and up,” Moeller said. “We’re also working on integrating the touch recognition software into embedded hardware, which will allow it to work out-of-the-box with Windows 7 PCs and any other computers.”

Moeller said ZeroTouch is giving collaborators opportunities for hands-on experiences with the new technology.

“We use the sensors in our lab to enable our students to create the interactive applications of the future, like Starcraft-style games using pen-and-touch interaction. Outside the lab, we have a few collaborators on campus.” Moeller said. “TEEX Disaster Preparedness and Response also recently ordered a 60” model for use in their coordination center.”

Jeff Morris, assistant professor in performance studies, said he had Moeller as a student in classes he taught where he was able to use ZeroTouch sensors in his projects. He said the Department of Music recently ordered a sensor for an annual International Festival for Visual Music and is eager to use it to advance technology-based performing arts.

“Before ZeroTouch we had to use a 12 inch touch screen, which was very expensive and restricting,” Morris said. “We’re looking forward to exploring the multi-touch interface using both fingers and objects at once. Now elbows are involved, we can have more natural and performance-worthy motions and more physical engagement with the sound.”

David Dornier, senior computer engineering major, said using ZeroTouch for the first time was a unique experience.

“At first I was skeptical because I’ve been using a keyboard and mouse for so long but after a few minutes of using the pen and touch it almost became second nature, and it was really fun to play,” Dornier said. “[ZeroTouch] is definitely something we could see more uses of in the future. It’s a grid of sensors you can attach to any monitor and it could help a lot of people move to the touch interactions like they’re doing on their smart phones right now.”

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