Scientists devising ‘transparent’ gadget to overcome iPhone’s ‘fat finger’ problem

November 14th, 2007 - 2:17 am ICT by admin  
Multi-touch interface technology hit the commercial market this year, with the US release of Apple’s iPhone in June.

But, as Daniel Wigdor of Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL) and the University of Toronto, Canada, said the iPhone’s touchscreen is not perfect.

“As soon as you put your hands on the display you [obstruct] the screen. This is what we call the ‘occlusion problem’. Users of iPhones have other problems too. Multi-touch devices detect the entirety of the touch area. That’s what we call the ‘fat finger’ problem,” he said.

According to him, these two problems, combined, make it difficult to select precise targets, such as the keys on a virtual keyboard.

Together with Patrick Baudisch at Microsoft Research, Wigdor has now developed a novel solution to these problems.

Their prototype, LucidTouch, is a device that can be held comfortably in two hands, similar to the PlayStation Portable.

It has a large touch-sensitive LCD screen, similar to that used in the iPhone. But it can also be controlled using a touch-sensitive interface on its rear surface, a solution to the occlusion problem.

When using the rear touch interface, the user’s fingers appear as shadows on the screen, giving the illusion they are holding a transparent device.

According to the two scientists, LucidTouch highlights the active point of each finger with a small green dot, removing the fat finger problem.

“We’re trying to address the problem of occlusion by giving the user an idea of their input, while still being able to see through the hands to the screen,” said Wigdor.

“I like the idea. It clearly addresses the occlusion problem, and using dots ‘attached’ to the fingers also attempts to address the fat-finger problem,” said Alistair Edwards at the University of York.

Edwards, however, said he would like to see the technology pushed further.

“If I had one of these, I would be wanting to try out all sorts of ideas. What about ‘throwing’ objects [from one hand to the other]? Also, why not build in some orientation detectors, so that you can also manipulate objects by tilting the device?” New Scientist magazine quoted him as saying.

Wigdor said a more pressing concern the team is presently facing is how to slim down the LucidTouch design.

The rear touch interface is currently provided using an unwieldy “boom camera” strapped to the back of the device that records finger movements.

Using a souped up version of a touch panel like the iPhone’s screen is one option. But there are other alternatives.

“We could use LEDs to record the movement, because they are both emitters and sensors. You would have the back of the device covered with them, half turned on and half turned off. Then the light from the LEDs that are on would be reflected from the hands and back onto the LEDs that are off,” said Wigdor.

“That would generate a charge that could show where the hands are. We’re just researchers. But from a research point of view, we are looking at improving the user interaction,” he said. (ANI)

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