Luminos add third dimension to Microsoft Surface

Using a Microsoft Surface table computer has typically been limited to two-dimensional interactions, but research presented at the Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference in Atlanta adds a third dimension.

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Building blocks, called Luminos, can be stacked on the Surface computer and the system recognizes the configuration, which could be useful, for instance, in architectural renderings or other 3D modeling.

"Traditionally people have been able to build flat objects on a table-top surface," said Patrick Baudisch, a professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany and chairman of its Human Computer Interaction group. "What you can't do, however, is stack objects."

The Luminos are bundles of glass fibers bound by metal that were custom made by Baudisch and his team at the institute near Berlin. Glass fiber needs to be used because it allows for better light transmittance versus a block of glass.

"So basically the light comes from below the table, goes through the Luminos, hits a marker at the top and then goes back down and is seen by the table and we lose light in that process," Baudisch said.

By reducing light loss the blocks can be stacked higher.

The team used a game of checkers to demonstrate the concept. When one checker is stacked on top of another, the board recognizes the "kinged" checker. In another demonstration using the Luminos as building blocks, the Surface can recognize when a bridge is built spanning two blocks.

"If you're making an architectural simulation then you could drag all your building blocks around with a mouse, but often times people feel it's more appropriate to have building blocks which have all these properties," Baudisch said.

The Luminos aren't limited to just being used as building blocks, though. They can be used as dials and in one demonstration they were used to adjust the properties of an image. One dial was placed on top of an image and rotated to change the image's tint. Another Lumino was placed on top of the first and was rotated to adjust the saturation of the image.

Baudisch said there are no plans for commercialization at this time.

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