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Student redefines touch screen

Published: Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07


Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION

Jon Moeller, along with a team of researchers, has developed Zero Touch over the past three and a half years.

Innovative sparks at Texas A&M University’s interface ecology lab are igniting a blazing fire in the world of technology.  Zero Touch is on the path to quickly landing itself in commercial usage.

Jon Moeller’s voice caught most Aggies off-guard during his recent Best Buy commercial appearance, as he announces, “My name is Jon Moeller.  I’m from Texas A&M University.  I’m using my laptop to help create a touchscreen out of thin air.”

Jon Moeller, graduate student in computer science, and a team of researchers created Zero Touch, a multi-touch sensor frame.  
“Through classes and various other things, this idea of a flat, thin, transparent multi-touch sensor came about,” Moeller said.

Zero Touch works similarly to the touchscreen most people use on a device such as an iPhone or an iPad.  However, when you cross the plane of sensors on it, light is blocked from travelling from one LED to another sensor on the frame.

According to Moeller, it does not have to be touched, offering some advantage in touch screen applications, because a person can move more fluidly without having to ensure that their finger is in contact with the screen the entire time.

The first major prototype of Zero Touch was published in May 2011.  Moeller worked alongside Andruid Kerne, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, on this project for about three and a half years.

Kerne said, “There were some methods around that were popular for multi-touch sensing. Most of them involved having projectors behind a screen…. so that’s a really bulky setup.  We wanted to get rid of that and be able to work with LCDs because the thinness is nice.”

The team working on Zero Touch said getting the opportunity to participate in the Best Buy commercial was an eye-opening experience

“The Best Buy commercial has kind of been a rocket ship that has propelled us.  It’s great for me because all of my friends are like ‘Hey I saw you on a commercial,’” Moeller said.  “It’s a good validation for the technology.  When you see other people using it, they think it’s really cool.  It’s a different level than when you see it everyday.”

Kerne said the commercial positions A&M as a leader in the fields of science technology, engineering and mathematics, which gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Publicity doesn’t stop there though as Zero Touch is about to be marketed.  A company is being formed around it, with buyers already in line.  Units will be shipped by the end of this year.

“I’m really looking forward to getting some experience in entrepreneurship and really pushing a technology from its initial seed as a research project into the real world as a product,” Moeller said.

Moeller is now working with the Student Business Accelerator, located in Research Park on west campus. It will be officially opened in August.  

Shelly Brenckman, member of the accelerator project, said it exists to help students who have an idea or business they are ready to launch and get them whatever kind of help they need.

The Accelerator will provide Moeller with an office to help get his business launched.

Zero Touch was recently awarded with a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program.  

“[The grant] is made to help foster a transition between a technology that was developed through a regular National Science Foundation grant into starting a company and building a business around it,” said Kerne.  “[It will] help us work on a business plan and understand the things that we need to do to understand the market and customers.”

Two Zero Touch products were purchased by the university a couple of months ago.  One customer is planning to use a Zero Touch in a window display so customers can interact with a product inside the window from outside the display.

Moeller said Zero Touch will be large format multi-touch.  For example, most people have multi-touch on their phones, but when it’s brought to a larger size, like a TV, it becomes more expensive to use that kind of technology.

Moeller said, “It would be cheaper, very accurate and precise.”

The Zero Touch team also has ideas of using its technology in vehicles, medical surgery and coordination centers.  Although these ideas may take years to tackle, they are still possibilities.

“I feel like Zero Touch is becoming a platform for impacting the world on a larger scale and that really matters to me. We encourage people who have ideas about how to use the company, how to use the technology, or context it can be applied in to contact us and let us know, especially aggies,” Kerne said.

Venturing into the business world is new territory for Zero Touch, but with help from the University and other contributors, it will soon be a product on the worldwide market.

“We are just really excited about getting the company started.  That’s the next step and it’s a big step, but we are looking forward to it and we are really motivated,” Moeller said.


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