Researchers from the University of Washington’s Ubiquitous Computing Lab have developed a method to turn an LCD display into a touch screen by utilizing the low levels of electromagnetic interference produced by many consumer electronics.
“All these devices around you have all these signals coming out of them, and we ignore them because we think they’re noise,” Sidhant Gupta, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington’s Ubiquitous Computing Lab and one of the co-authors of a research paper published on the experiment, told the MIT Technology Review.
While touch screens have become common on smartphones, tablets and other small handheld devices, the capability is less common on larger displays, computer screens and televisions because of cost restrictions. The group’s research could eventually be used to inexpensively add touch recognition to larger screens.
According to Gupta, the new method uses software to track changes to any signals given off by an LCD display when a user places a hand near the screen. These signals appear as electromagnetic interference, and are analyzed by the software using machine learning to identify if the changes were simply “noise” or one of several deliberate user commands. In a study conducted by the team, researchers were able to control an on-screen video player using gestures and touches.
While the new technology will not make a non-interactive display as touch-sensitive as a smartphone or tablet, the research team predicts it could be used to give humans the ability to better interact with large screens in museum exhibits and on public transportation. The researchers are not planning to commercialize the technology, but believe that “any motivated person” could reconstruct the system using off-the-shelf sensor parts and the algorithms contained in the research paper.