While much of the world's attention is focused on tapping out texts and launching Angry Birds, researchers have been busy thinking in three dimensions. At Microsoft
You are the touchscreen
Microsoft Research has been so prolific in its progress that I have two innovations to show you. The first is OmniTouch, which is the boldest move yet away from physical devices. I theorized in an earlier article that Microsoft might combine pico projection with sophisticated sensors to create interfaces on any surface, and that's exactly what OmniTouch does. Its key components are a PrimeSense depth camera (part of the Kinect system) and a Microvision
Source: Microsoft Research.
Don't get too worked up about buying one just yet -- the device's major drawback is that it's shoulder-mounted and still too cumbersome for most people. But considering all the progress made in miniaturization over the years, there's no reason to expect it to remain bulky and impractical forever.
Beams of opportunity
This is a big leap, not only for interface design but for pico projection manufacturers as well, including Microvision and Texas Instruments
Step into the Holodesk
Microsoft Research isn't stopping with OmniTouch. Its push into user immersion also includes the Star Trek-ish-named Holodesk, which pairs the Kinect with a mirrored display system to allow users to interact with 3-D objects in real time. Think of it almost as augmented reality for the real world. You can take a look at the device in action on YouTube. It looks like an ideal technology for video gaming, and it might be what Microsoft needs to seal its victory over Sony's Playstation 3. That's still a way off, until Microsoft can get the system to work without a mirrored enclosure.
Other applications that might not need such mirror-less freedom could include 3-D design. The Kinect's 3-D scanning capabilities would pair well, and users could manipulate the objects with their hands like clay before working on the minuscule details on an old-fashioned screen. Autodesk
It seems like only yesterday that our computers were just beige boxes waiting for us at home. Who knows what shape they might take tomorrow? Add these companies to your Watchlist to keep track of their progress toward an immersive future. It might get here before you know it.