At SXSW this year, Sony opened up what it calls the “Wow Factory” in a converted warehouse on Trinity Street in Austin, where members of its Future Lab program have set up some of the weirdest and coolest hardware concepts out there. The Future Lab program is a research and development initiative that urges Sony employees to think more about human creativity and interaction, and not just faster processors and bigger screens.
One theme Sony hit upon at last year’s show and brought back in full force this go around is projector-based touchscreen technology. The company has essentially taken its expertise in display projection and married it with some truly unique user interface design. The result is a pair of prototype products that can turn any flat surface into a screen that you can not only communicate with using your hands, but that can also take real-world objects and turn them into a kind of augmented reality version of themselves.
Just imagine placing a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the table and then being to drag a character off the page, or running your finger along a plain wooden surface and turning it into a responsive piano made of light. One demonstration even takes angular blocks of white-painted wood and transforms the table into a scale model of a home using only light from the projector.
Those are features of two prototypes Sony’s Future Lab has cooked up. One is a projector that Sony first brought out at last year’s SXSW. It sits directly on a tabletop, transforming the surface into an interactive display that does 3D deep sensing, as well as tracking of objects and hand movements. The device is aware of when both an object is placed in view, when your physical hand is touching that object, or when a pointed finger is resting on the table’s surface.
Sony created some clever software demonstrations to show it off, including a live music app that used cylindrical plastic blocks to create an increasingly elaborate version of a classic Beethoven tune. The other was the Alice demonstration we first saw last year, which showed off how the software could identify when a teacup or deck of cards was on the table and overlay some cool graphics that could even be manipulated by a user dragging their hands on the table.
The third and final demonstration was the scale model one, which let a Sony rep construct a virtual home out of blocks of wood. He then managed the scene by dropping physical objects on the table that transform into virtual trees and adding light to the scene by hovering his hand over the objects. The second prototype projector is new this year at SXSW. It’s an entirely different piece of hardware, that relies on the same responsive projector technology. Instead of sitting overhead, this version is a small modem-sized box that sits at the peak of an angled surface. The projector turns the table into a number of different musical instruments by blasting light at the surface, while sensors track what your hands doing on the table to let you produce sounds.