Z-Depth Touch Table Proposal

Recent INVIVIA brainstorms and discussions have pointed to the desirability of adding Z-Depth to the Touch Table idea. The least obtrusive way to do this would be to illuminate the hand from below the screen and use stereo cameras situated there as well. I’ve made numerous tests of this approach using different screen materials and illuminator positions.

What I’ve learned is that the ideal screen material would be a great diffuser of the white projector light and yet be transparent to the IR light illuminating the hand and provide a clear view for the IR camera. I have not found such a material. What I find instead is that a terrific screen material is almost opaque to the IR source and IR camera, and a material that functions well for the IR camera is a terrible projector screen.

To illustrate the problem I used frosted mylar, the material that is the closest I could find to fulfilling both criteria: allowing the cameras to see through somewhat and still provide an adequate projector screen.

So here’s what the camera saw, with the hand touching, looking at the underside of the frosted mylar illuminated by a couple of rows of IR LEDs (MS Surface works something like this, I assume)


When the hand is slowly pulled away from the mylar (here at 1inch increments) the diffusion of the image (very good for the projection) blurs the hand so that at 4inches away it is no longer recognizable, not by human eyes and certainly not by a video camera.



If all we needed was 2inches of hand travel we could probably make a frosted mylar screen work.

Looking back at the ZDepth stereo demo from last year is instructive. It shows that you need at least 8-10 inches of depth of movement in order not to severely constrain the user. (the cameras have the blue lights and are located above the screen)



Here’s what the stereo cameras see:



The Proposal:


Until we find the magical screen material which diffuses in white light and is transparent in IR, I propose that we adapt the approach I used successfully in the Hand Follower demo above to the Touch Table environment.

My idea is that we build (or at least think hard about building) a Z-Depth module that is simply a small wide angle USB video camera, a stacked and angled fan of IR LEDs, and a housing to protect them (and in this case hold the connector to get the signals into the table.)


Here are other housing variations:

If we can’t find a suitable small USB camera, this housing is big enough to cover the existing Logitech version


And, of course, there is the obligatory Egg variation:


…and this final (not very well crafted) variation where the parts are partially hidden in the 1inch table depth and clunky plastic parts are traded away for lots more veneer…


….obviously, ideas for other variations (or changes to these variations) are welcome….


Solving the stray window light problem:

When you look again at the vertical ZDepth demo pictures you realize that they were made in a pretty controlled environment where stray light was easily controlled. The INVIVIA conference room is another matter entirely.

My living room has windows big enough to offer a similar experimental environment for testing. The problem that has to be dealt with is that at least one of the cameras on the table corner will likely be looking across the table to a well lit window. Blacking out the window entirely is not an option. What is needed is a way to modulate the IR light coming through the window without drastically changing the white light amount or color.

What I found was a family of heat absorbing commercial window films, intended to keep heat out during the summer and in during the winter that do the job pretty well.



Here you see the video camera (blue light to the right of the screen) looking at my hand and the window, to the left of the screen is the IR Illuminator. In the video capture window on the screen the only things visible are my hand and the source, even though the bright window in the background is in view…

Apparently there are non reflective versions of this film that would decrease the surface crinkly effect on the film.. That version was not available in Home Depot…







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