We have a few Microsoft Surface touchscreens at our suites at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, CA. I can’t wait to talk to the team when they come back about what it’s like to use them. While I, like many, have yet to see a first-generation Surface, Microsoft is already working on the next-gen models. They were first seen four months ago at TechFest 2009. Now, word about them has been getting around South by Southwest, going on right now in the land of Roky Erickson and Gibby Haynes, Austin, TX. The biggest difference we’re hearing so far about Surface, being developed under the name “Second Light,” is that it will have infrared sensors that will allow users to interact with it without touching the screen.

According to a white paper (PDF) describing the technology, “SecondLight … carries all the benefits of rear projection-vision systems, but also allows us to extend the interaction space beyond the surface. Like existing systems we can display, sense, and therefore interact on the surface, but we can also simultaneously project and image through the projection screen.

“This opens up the three-dimensional space above (or in front of) the surface for interaction.”

The new Surface will also have an additional camera inside it, so that the screen can project overlapping images.

The current-gen Surface, with its hefty price tag, is made for commercial, hospitality and entertainment enterprises. Commercial customers are currently paying about $12,500 for one. Hopefully the second-generation Surface will drive prices down enough to cause wider adoption.

While smartphones have made touchscreens common, we’ve yet to see a successful mainstream touchscreen PC. Right now it looks like that is still a few years away, sadly.

Second Light is expected to be released in two to three years.

By Mark Alvarez