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article imagePrototype augmented reality system uses your desk as a display

By James Walker     Jul 5, 2017 in Technology
A prototype augmented reality device in development at Carnegie Mellon University projects apps onto your desk and runs from a standard-size lightbulb socket. It lets you convert any surface into a screen that's as interactive as your smartphone.
The project, detailed in the MIT Technology Review, is being developed by the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon. Called Desktopography, the idea lets you use the empty space on your desk to display convenience apps like a calculator, clock or maps.
Because the system uses augmented reality, the apps can automatically position themselves when you put a real object on the desk. If you need to put a pen, sheet of paper or mug down, any apps in the area will be moved away to a clear space on the desk.
Desktopography augmented reality project
Desktopography augmented reality project
Robert Xiao
Unlike most other augmented reality devices, Desktopography doesn't require you to wear a headset. It's a simpler, "no-wires" approach to future interfaces that's meant to help you interact with your computer. This means it shouldn't impede you by placing artificial limitations on how you work.
The researchers hope the projection technology will allow the system to circumvent most of the annoyances of conventional augmented reality, making Desktopopgraphy more appealing and useful in everyday life. By cutting away the boundaries and literally overlaying the digital world on the real, the project's creators are aiming to create the first seamless blend of the two.
"It's about trying to break interaction out from our screens and our devices, where they're separated from reality, and a separate world, really … and try to merge those onto our environment," Robert Xiao, the graduate student behind Desktopography, said to the MIT Technology Review.
The device uses a small projector, a camera and a single depth sensor to work out the location of objects on your desk and display its apps. Since the camera can identify where you're tapping, the hardware provides everything needed to turn any surface into a "touchscreen" panel. The system can also track real objects, letting you use a pen to "scroll" through content or slide a book to rearrange apps. The entire device is powered by the standard lightbulb socket it's mounted in.
Desktopography augmented reality project
Desktopography augmented reality project
Robert Xiao
Desktopography is currently a functioning prototype but a lot of work remains before it'll be ready for commercial use. The most significant hurdle to be overcome is the mounting of the camera used to track where you're tapping.
Multi-touch tracking with a camera is always difficult but the sensor's placement vertically above your finger makes the issues worse. It cannot accurately identify when the bottom of your finger touches your table, leading to misplaced inputs.
Xiao is optimistic that Desktopography will one day be put on sale. He thinks it could be available within the next five years, letting you put apps and shortcuts on your physical desktop in the year 2022. The technology is described as being "imminently feasible." Unlike AR headsets, its ease of use could eventually make it popular with consumers.
More about desktopography, augmented reality, AR, mixed reality, future tech
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