Jul 222009

The first commercial multitouch table, the Surface Computer from Microsoft , was released in April 2008 and costs around AUD$20 000. Prohibitive for most libraries.


The camera under the tabletop detects where objects are and allows you to replicate mouse movements with your hands. Imagine mousing from many separate points on the surface and maybe with another pair of hands joining in – all working well to communicate with the attached computer. This lets you do things like show a pile of images like photographs and toss them around the table top, magnifying, editing and emailing using your hands, as though you were handling real objects.


I was jealous when Darien Library created a little video of their new Surface Computer – and was lucky enough to get to play with it in their children’s area when I visited there in late March. It was apparent that this was a social device, where kids and caregivers can work together. Although there were only simple games on it, the potential is great. At the time, John Blyberg suggested a setup where a detector works out which book is resting on the Surface Computer and then reads an interactive story to the child.

the surface table . Uploaded to Flickr on March 29, 2009 by cindiann

the surface table . Uploaded to Flickr on March 29, 2009 by cindiann

I was also lucky enough to finish my trip away at DOK Library Concept Center in Delft in the Netherlands. Last week the guys released a little video of a program created for the Microsoft Surface Computer by Koen Rotteveel. If you place your DOK library card on the surface, it reads the proprietary QR-like code on the back and then can retrieve historical images of the place where you live.

Multitouch Microsoft Surface: Cultural Heritage Browser from Jaap van de Geer on Vimeo.


After the first Microsoft Surface Computer was released in 2008, there was quite a bit of reverse engineering happening. I was really excited when videos started appearing of how you can build your own multitouch computer using a cardboard box, tracing paper, plexiglass and a  webcam- like this example , How to Make a Cheap Multitouch Pad – MTmini

Most of the software to run these “do-it yourself” systems uses Jeff Han’s code – released for free – from his Multi-Touch Interaction Research


I came home my travels in April to find that my large computer monitor had been swiped and replaced by another one. My husband , Stewart,  needed it for parts for the multi-touch table he was developing as part of his work with the Institute for Multi-sensor processing & content analysis (IMPCA) at Curtin University.

They are building a multitouch table to work with therapy for people with autism. Acquiring language is very hard for some little kids with autism. A form of therapy called “Applied Behavioural Analysis” can involve repetitive sorting of image cards so that a child learns to categorise and generalise (eg. this looks like a dog, so it goes in the “dog” pile). Using a surface computer, images can be dealt and manipulated by child and therapist, and games incorporated as a reward when the child is performing well. The programs they have written for the table are simplistic, but it is as fully featured as a Surface table.

The best thing, though, is that they hope to produce their surface tables for under $500. My eyes lit up and I said “library” when he told me that. It’s not a plug for them, as they will not be in production immediately – but gives me hope that regular libraries will be able to incorporate multitouch computer tables as part of what they offer users.

You can see Stewart’s account of the way he created the prototype – what he did to my monitor, how he incorporated a Mac mini and keyboard in the casing – here in this blog post,  LCD Multitouch Table Mark 1 . There is even a photo of our cat, warming herself in the  computer table during development:

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