Researchers at Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University have produced a wearable touch screen sensor system that can transform virtually any surface into a manipulable interface. Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research Redmond researchers Hrvoje Benko and Andy Wilson presented their findings at the Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Santa Barbara, California this week in a paper entitled OmniTouch: Wearable Multitouch Interaction Everywhere.

Called OmniTouch, the system consists of a handheld projector and depth-sensing camera; the former projects an image onto any available surface, while the latter observes the movements of the user's fingers upon the projected image.  Users can write, type, punch numbers on a keypad, paint, or navigate between various applications. The hardware is worn on the user's shoulder and can be used on walls and other stationary flat surfaces, but also works on held objects such as notepads and books and even on users' own bodies.

The goal, says the team, is to enhance the user experience of mobile technologies, which they say is being restricted by the size of necessarily small size of portable devices. Diminutive screens and buttons mar the user experience, and otherwise prevent us from realizing their full potential, write the authors.

In this paper we explore and prototype a powerful alternative approach to mobile interaction that uses a body-worn projection/sensing system to capitalize on the tremendous surface area the real world provides. For example, the surface area of one hand alone exceeds that of typical smart phone. Tables are often an order of magnitude larger than a tablet computer. If we could appropriate these ad hoc surfaces in an on-demand way, we could retain all of the benefits of mobility while simultaneously expanding the interactive capability.

The device, say Harrison, Benko and Wilson, does not require special training or calibration of surfaces and though currently somewhat bulky, would not be difficult to scale down in size. It is entirely possible that a future version of OmniTouch could be the size of a matchbox and as easy to wear as a pendant or a watch, said a blog post on Microsoft Research's page.