Metaio's 'Augmented Reality' Can Make Any Object a Touchscreen

May 23, 2014 05:11 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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A German company that focuses on augmented reality has unveiled a way to make any surface into a touch interface through heat detection.

Recently demoed by Metaio in a video, the concept works by connecting a thermal camera to a device to track heat left by your finger, TechCrunch reported.

"Our R&D department had a few thermal cameras that they'd just received and kind of on a whim they started playing around," Metaio spokesman Trak Lord told Gigaom. "One researcher noticed that every time he touched something, it left a very visible heat signature imprint."

While regular cameras can track movement well, they have limits when it comes to three-dimensional surfaces. On the other hand, "the thermal camera adds another dimension of understanding. If you have a [normal] camera it's not as precise. The thermal imaging camera can very clearly see where exactly you're touching," Lord explained.

Still in the research and development phase, Augmented Reality is at least five years from coming to the market in any form. The prototype Metaio is working with right now uses an infared thermal camera, a visible light camera and a tablet PC.

If it does make it to a mass-produced device, the technology could be used for practical purposes including security keypads only viewable by the user, print ads with clickable links and interactive vehicle manuals.

The video uses some after-effects enhancements, but the working demo is showcased near the end. The Augmented Reality prototype will be demoed at the 2014 Augmented World Expo, which will be held in Santa Clara, Calif., May 27-29.

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