Multitouch: An Emerging Technology that Can Change Web Design

As many of you have probably experienced, the iPhone’s touchscreen is awesome. When viewing pictures, you can use two fingers, spread them apart, and the picture will get bigger; if you pinch your fingers together, the picture gets smaller. The technology the iPhone uses to accomplish this is called multitouch. Touchscreen cellphones have been rolling out pretty regularly, but the iPhone is the only one to detect multiple points of contact.

Believe it or not, there exists a small community of hobbyists and innovators called the NUIGroup that is researching multitouch technology (NUI is “Natural User Interface”). Currently, the most popular multitouch devices are actually walls and tables. You can’t really get the full idea without seeing a video of a multitouch display in action. Check this one out.

About 6 months ago, I stumbled across the above YouTube video. Both amazed and perplexed, I delved deeper into researching the technology and came across the NUIGroup. There are actually a few different ways to build a successful multitouch display. All of them rely on a video source, and infrared light source, and an infrared camera. Without getting too deep into the technology, infrared light is flooded across the top of the screen. When a finger enters the infrared flood, it reflects light down into the infrared camera. The camera the interprets “blobs” of white light as a finger. The image goes through 4 or 5 different image processing filters and gets translated into messages that can be sent to various applications.

Anyway, about 3 months ago, being the electronics technogeek I am, I decided to embark on building my own display. Three months later (actually, about a week or so ago), I finished my prototype. My setup actually uses infrared lasers as the light source, a dismantled LCD as the video source, and a PS3Eye camera with the infrared filter removed as the camera. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures to show, but hopefully within the next week or so, I’ll be able to post some pictures of my display.

This technology has huge potential. A simple YouTube search for “Multitouch” will reveal huge (100+ inches) displays. These displays are showcased at concerts, corporate meetings, museums, and art shows.  Most of the time, they are displaying artistic, cooperative displays where 5 or 6 people can “paint” on the display at the some time. Other times, there are unique musical synthesizers being shown.

Will this technology someday be a routine part of web design? We can see it moving into the mobile environment very soon. Our Jacksonville web designers indicate multitouch functionality will have a significant impact on decisions made during the web design process.