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BYU computer scientist 'spills' handheld screen on table

The pursuit of smaller and smaller electronic gadgets leaves one glaring problem: trying to perform work on those tiny screens.

For a solution, a Brigham Young University computer scientist developed an interactive projection system that synchronizes with a handheld computer. The images projected onto a custom table from overhead will rotate and scroll in response to the touch of a hand.

Professor Dan Olsen and his students presented their work Oct. 12 in Rhode Island at TableTop 2007, a venue for ideas about moving computing away from the desktop. The conference is sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known as IEEE.

“We’re trying to push this idea of ‘I can carry everything with me,’” Olsen said.

The system works by establishing a circuit through the table top, the user’s body and into a conductive pad placed on the seat. The complete circuit is what makes it possible to scroll and rotate the screen.

The only modification to the handheld computer is a plate fastened on the back. The computer synchronizes with a ceiling projector aimed down at the table top.

Advantages of the system are quickly seen when Olsen’s student assistants sit down to play an electronic version of the popular board game Risk. The playing surface, a map of the world, spills out across the table, covering roughly the same area as the physical version of the board game. One student reaches out and slides the projected map toward his corner to make a move, then rotates the map 180 degrees and pushes it back across the table to the other player.

“It’s actually easier to play than the physical game because we can move it around and use it comfortably,” Olsen said. “With the board game, we’d knock over all the pieces by moving the table.”

The technology isn’t all about fun and games, either. Olsen also uses spilling technology on spreadsheets and hopes the approach will make other applications like word processing feasible with handheld computers. Olsen’s research goal is “Interactive computing everywhere.”

Olsen is a former director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Writer: Marissa Ballantyne


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