Now that smartphones, laptops and tablets with touchscreen displays are common, bringing to reality fully interactive 3D displays is the next step in screen technology.
Many of us have fantasized about being in the shoes of Tony Stark as he manipulates a variety of graphics and objects that pop out of any number of screens that practically encircle him. Thanks to a new EU research project, developing fully interactive 3D displays is in hot pursuit, and not unlike the display technology seen in any of the Iron Man films, the aim of these researchers is to allow users to take 2D digital objects and populate them in 3D, which can then be changed and altered as needed.
Interactive 3D displays are in our future
Started in January 2013, the EU-funded project called GHOST, which stands for Generic, Highly-Organic Shape-Changing Interfaces, has the stated purpose of developing screens that will allow users to grab objects from a screen and drag them into a 3D world where human fingers can shape and manipulate them at whim.
This will have all sorts of implications for the future, from everyday interaction with mobile phones to learning with computers and design work. It’s not only about deforming the shape of the screen, but also the digital object you want to manipulate, maybe even in mid-air. Through ultrasound levitation technology, for example, we can project the display out of the flat screen. And thanks to deformable screens we can plunge our fingers into it.GHOST coordinator Professor KASPER HORNBÆK of the University of Copenhagen
The researchers envision a world where tactile screens allow scientists to select and manipulate data, artists to mold innovative digital artworks, and surgeons a chance to practice a risky surgery before actually performing the procedure.
Fulfilling this dream are three technological approaches that include shape-changing applications, flexible displays that can respond to user needs by changing shape, and the use of ultrasound that will allow you to feel 3D generated objects.
Aptly called ‘Emerge,’ this shape-changing application offers users the ability to select and pull data from bar charts with nothing more than your fingertips. These drawn out points of data can then be rearranged according to the researchers liking. Other prototypes include “morphees,” devices with lycra or alloy displays that are stretchable and bendable. Imagine a screen that automatically curves its edges to block anyone from seeing a person type in their passwords and security PINs.
Working under the name of UltraHaptics, there’s also a team of researchers from the University of Bristol who, partnered with GHOST, are developing technology that uses ultrasound to mimic the sensation of touch when manipulating digitally rendered 3D objects.
According to Prof Hornbæk, “Displays which change shape as you are using them are probably only five years off now. If you want your smartphone to project the landscape of a terrain 20 or 30 cm out of the display, that’s a little further off – but we’re working on it!”