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Metaio Thermal Touch: Augmenting the World into a Touchscreen

Augmented reality powerhouse Metaio has now branched out into the realm of tactile content control – on top of a stunning 3D computerized visual overlay, they’ve added the hardware necessary to make wearable tech truly interactive by turning the whole world into a touchscreen.

Augmented Reality (AR) isn’t just a futuristic gaming platform. It is a useful tool that has already become a staple in many innovative companies seeking to evolve both how they design and how they reach their audience. Navigation, pop-up virtual information overlays, home device controls, interactive teaching, and 3D design are some of the other channels that are already investing in this rising podium of advanced GUIs (see some demonstrations of Metaio’s past AR projects here).

Having worked with many different clients over the past decade such as Audi, Macy’s, Lego, and Volkswagon to create immersive visualization technology, Metaio now seeks to revolutionize the ability to interact with the already high-quality optical renderings out now. Although wearable computers such as Google Glass are making headway, the way we actually use the technology is still clunky and sometimes annoying to others: shouting voice commands and fumbling to find buttons is counterintuitive, while touch is a much more natural way to shape and manage objects around us.

Metaio CTO Peter Meier points out that “everyone is talking about wearable computing eyewear, but no one is talking about the best way to actually use those devices. We need natural, convenient interface to navigate the technology of tomorrow, and that’s why we developed Thermal Touch.”

So how have they turned the entire world into a touchscreen? Thermal Touch, composed of infrared and standard cameras linked to a tablet, tracks and captures the heat signatures briefly left over on the objects you touch. This information is synched to your computer vision, allowing you to turn any surface into a touchscreen as you deliberately augment the world around you.

This thermal imaging driven interface is meant to be combined with head mounted displays to optimize computerized user experiences, while eliminating keyboards, sketchpads, and bulky 3D design models. Instead, everything is simplified down using Metaio’s SDK, which features top-of-line motion tracking and thermal imprints in 3D.

Besides the advantage of much more user-friendly object manipulation, another benefit of Thermal Touch is the elimination of the problem of accidental selection. On many normal touchscreens, any accidental tap or grazing takes you off where you didn’t intend. Alternatively, Thermal Touch requires you to intentionally but briefly hold your touch on an object to imprint your heat on it for it to register the selection. This drastically decreases frustrating errors.

The applications range from a long continuum between work and play – anything that could benefit from Metaio’s unique tracking, interaction, and rendering capabilities, such as demonstrated during Bayerisches National Museum’s enhanced indoor experience. Metaio’s blog post about Thermal Touch visualizes the possibilities:

Imagine pushing directions to your device simply by touching a static map in a shopping mall, building complex or airport. Children could bring play to new levels and launch digital content directly from their toys; design professionals could visualize their digital and 3D creations on their real world counterparts; and service technicians could pull up information just by touching an object in real life.

Metaio CEO Thomas Alt demonstrated the Thermal Touch at the 2014 Augmented World Expo in California this May. Although the Thermal Touch is in the prototype stage now with product development at least 5 years away, international AR leader Metaio has done nothing but repeatedly deliver on their innovative promises that stretch human capabilities into the realm of computerized interaction. The R&D team plans to improve further on the design when more advanced sensors are accessible for the device.

Keara Wright

Aspiring creative author and astrophysicist, with degrees in Physics, Mathematics, and Psychology.

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