Microsoft has been working with large scale multi-touch displays for some time now. Their PixelSense projects, once under the branding of Surface, involve large scale interactive tables for the home and office. According to a new patent application that we recently discovered, it now appears that Microsoft has their eye on being the first to bring touch and haptics technology to future smart homes in the form of smart walls. First generation smart walls will allow users to interact with lighting and other types of controls that will be virtual based; meaning that they'll only appear when needed, leaving the walls unblemished when not in use. These new controls will deliver higher end haptics that will be able to provide users with a true sense of touching and controlling these new virtual controls. Experiments at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that these smart walls will also be able to be programmed to lower or raise sound levels on your stereo or to put a tune on hold by simply tapping a wall in certain ways or with specific gestures. Although it may seem mundane or trivial today, smart walls will be able to enhance the esthetics of a home and deliver a high degree of convenience not available today.
Microsoft Invents Smart Walls for Next Generation Homes
Microsoft states that their invention introduces a user interaction model that provides a realistic tactile sensation of manipulating physical objects, environments and controls. On-screen button shapes and topology may be felt through touch without having to rely on visual cues. The tactile, incremental indents of an on-screen scroll wheel could be simulated, providing more user control. Textures could be simulated for swipe and multi-touch gestures. On-screen buttons may provide a click-back sensation when pressed insuring a positive actuation. Navigation through virtual environments could be controlled using various levels of pressure on the screen.
Doesn't this sound like something you'd expect on a future tablet? Yes of course, but the focus of this invention isn't on a consumer device, it's on future controls associated with smart walls for your home, office or place of business. It's about bringing infrastructural haptics to wall scale interactive displays.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 4 shown below displays another example providing infrastructural haptics on wall scale interactive displays. An example interactive wall may provide tactile feedback corresponding to a touch according to displayed content. In an embodiment, the tactile feedback may be played in real time to avoid delay in feedback response.
The patent figure also illustrates actuators installed as an array of actuators on an interactive wall to provide tactile feedback play through a part or whole of the interactive wall. The interactive wall (shown as # 420 in the graphic) may be adjacent to a standard wall (shown as # 410 on the graphic). The interactive wall may have studs that have fixed bars (#426 on the graphic) holding the actuator (# 424 on the graphic). In an example, the actuators may be vibration generating devices installed on bars spanning across interactive wall studs.
In another embodiment, the actuators may be installed equidistance apart on a grid behind the interactive wall. In yet another embodiment, the actuators may be installed on studs of the interactive wall. In an example scenario, a damping agent or an air gap separates the actuators and the interactive wall to avoid vibration on the interactive wall studs while moving the interactive wall. In another example scenario, dampening agents separate the interactive wall with adjacent non-interactive walls.
In an example, the complexity of the tactile feedback may be dependent on a number of the actuators correlating a larger number of the actuators to a capability for an increased complexity of the tactile feedback. The interactive wall may be enabled to simulate a scroll wheel, buttons, clicks, swipes, multi-touch gestures, etc.
In Microsoft's patent FIG. 3 shown above we see an example of a top down view of an interactive wall.
Video: Taking a Peek at one Aspect of Future Smart Walls
In January 2010, prior to the iPad being introduced by Steve Jobs, we filed a series of special reports relating to Apple's Tablet Prophesies. In our third report titled "The Tablet Prophecies – Future Twists," we introduced a video from Chris Harrison, a then third year Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University that discussed touch gesturing on a desk and more importantly, on a future smart wall.
Sometimes a video is able to provide you with a better sense of what a technology is all about. Although it's a little different from Microsoft's patent, it's completely in-line with the principles of their invention. In fact it should be noted that Harrison worked on an unspecified project at Microsoft, so it's conceivable that his University work you're about to see was something he brought to Microsoft.
At the moment, the work in this field looks a little primitive, but that's how most great ideas get started. Refinements come later.
In late 2009 we pointed to another emerging technology that integrated a television into mirrors of washrooms in an upscale hotel. The smart home is slowly coming together and integrating technologies right into the very walls of our future homes should be standard for mid to highend homes in the next decade.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed for in in Q2 2011. For more details on this invention, see patent application 20120326989.
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