Here is the problem with the advent of tablets and the ramp of Windows 8, we don’t have enough touchscreen capacity and that means that the rush to touch will hit a manufacturing wall. In addition when it comes to large screens and particularly TVs, touch is awkward at best and virtually impossible at worst (we likely aren’t going to run up to the TV to touch it). This brings forth technologies like Xbox Kinect which can work in 3D space and see you where you are sitting, however camera based technologies like Kinect are expensive in cost, pull power to operate (often significant power) and tend to be large making them inelegant for desktop monitors and overkill for remote controls.
What is needed is an inexpensive technology that does much of what Kinect does but can be inexpensively added to a remote, display, or touchpad to enable free space gestures at a far lower price than a touchscreen.
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Well the other day I got briefed on just such a technology, it is called GestIC and it is from Microchip technologies. It could well define the future of touch enabled devices because it is cheap, it is easy to learn, and it allows you to work without touching the display.
This technology can be mounted behind a screen, under a keyboard, in a remote control, or in a desktop. It creates the field in front of, over, or under the mounting point and as your hand moves in the field the technology accurately senses position on X, Y, and Z axes. You can page forward back, select objects, increase or decrease volumes, change channels or interact with the related hardware in all three degrees. For instance, in a music app you could change songs by swiping right to left, or left to right to replay, you could raise or decrease volume by raising or lowering your hand, etc.
Navigating Web pages would work the same way, except lifting and lowering your hand could work the zoom function in and out. While the test suite, to build apps and develop hardware for the device, is $169 dollars, the actual part at volume is a much more affordable at $2.26. This compares very favorably with the $100 premium paid for a touch display. And, more important it is far easier to build these small parts than to convert display fabrication factories over to touch.
Volume production of these parts is planned for April 2013 or about seven months from now placing the result in products by this time next year.
Once applied, desktop computing could become a very different experience. There are limitations to both mice and touchscreens, which generally require you to use both if only to avoid covering you nice new touch display with fingerprints. Games can become more real because your hands become the controller.
But it isn’t just for computers as this video shows it could be used for radios to raise or lower volume or find stations. Of course, for me the killer application for a radio would be for me to be able to just wave at the clock radio and get it to give me that extra 10 minutes of sleep or shut up.
Touch on a TV would seem difficult but this video showcasing how it might work with a remote control truly showcases one of our most beloved products re-imagined. This could change how we operate cars, appliances, and toys. You see if you don’t have to touch something you don’t get oil and dirt on it, you can seal it and eliminate all moving parts, and you can more easily make it water resistant.
In the end you will likely end up with things we haven’t yet thought of.
Wrapping Up: The Death of Touch?
The goal of touch was to create a more natural interface but we really don’t touch, generally, to communicate. We do gesture though and we gesture in real space. By moving from touch into a true 3D interface we get ever closer to changing our interaction with electronics into something far more natural. The fact that it may also be cheaper and more robust is just gravy. While the present is certainly touch; touch may not be the future.