The WorldKit system uses a camera and projector to transform any surface into a touchscreen. In addition the screen can be moved to suit the user.

Systems that enable you to use any and every surface as a touchscreen have become rather widespread recently, but creating moveable interfaces is a somewhat less straightforward feat. WorldKit, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, is designed to do just that. Using a paired depth camera and projector, ordinary surfaces can be made instantaneously interactive. The advantage of the system, which creates touch-based interactivity, is that you can move the screen to another spot with just a wave of the hand and without any re-calibration.

Making the user environment interactive

The WorldKit system currently comprises a depth camera, which is fixed to the ceiling, paired with a projector that registers the user’s hand movements and then projects them onto the chosen surface. The system can automatically adjust what it detects and consequently the image that is projected on to the desired surface. These ad hoc interfaces can be moved, changed or deleted with similar hand movements, which means they can be personalised. For example, the WorldKit creators have shown that it is possible to use your fingers to ‘paint’ a useable TV remote control on to the arm of your sofa. In the same way, with just a wave of your hand you can shift the screen on to a door or change the notes you have made on a calendar.

Easy installation, further development

Sensors and projectors are getting smaller all the time; this means the researchers can envisage developing this interactive tool in a form similar to that of a light bulb. This small-sized version could then be screwed into an ordinary lighting unit or moved to wherever the interface is needed. WorldKit is currently focusing on interactive surfaces, but the Carnegie Mellon team foresees future development to enable users to work with the system in mid air, rather than on a solid surface. In the same vein, high resolution cameras could one day enable the system to detect detailed finger movements or respond to voice commands.

By Pauline Trassard