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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Best in show: emerging technology
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website, San Diego

The Emerging Technologies exhibition at the Siggraph conference showcases novel interface technologies.

Here the BBC News website gives a brief rundown of the most innovative and eye-catching.


Byu-Byu users blow on to the screen

This aims to add another dimension, namely wind, to communication via video screens.

The system consists of fine-meshed screens that let air pass through them but also display images projected on to them.

The screens are also fitted with 64 sensors that bend when blown upon. Light bounced off tiny mirrors attached to the rear of the sensors lets the system work out where someone is blowing on the screen and how hard.

Sitting beyond the sensors behind are banks of small fans that can send strong or gentle breezes back through any section of the screen.

Masahiro Furukawa, one of the creators of Byu-Byu, said it added a tactile element to video communication. He said it could be used to blow out candles on a birthday cake thousands of miles away or play games such as virtual air hockey.

The name of the project, Byu-Byu, is an onomatopoeic Japanese phrase used to describe a howling wind.


Users have a tiny electric current running through their body

This interface aims to add another dimension to computer gaming and musical performances by making success depend on touching other players or artists.

At the heart of Freqtric are game controllers that, via a steel plate on their underside, trickle a small electric current through a player's body.

Sensors in the controller spot when this current is disrupted when they are touched by another player.

Tetsuaki Baba, creator of Freqtric and a student in the graduate school of design at Kyushu University, said touch could be put to different uses in a game. Shooting an opponent, for example, could be made to depend on touching them, he said.

How soft or hard someone is touched can also be sensed to add another, more subtle, aspect to game playing.

Mr Baba added that multiple Freqtric controllers could be used.

Tests of the system have involved four or five people becoming living instruments who, when touched, trigger a particular note or sound to be played.


Gravity Grabber
The system allows people to feel the weight of virtual objects

This system makes use of the discovery that squashing and rolling the sensitive pads on the ends of a person's index finger and thumb can give a realistic impression of weight.

Post-graduate student Kouta Minamizawa and colleagues, from the Information Physics and Computing department at the University of Tokyo, aimed to exploit this using a lightweight, wearable ring fitted with tiny motors that pull on a narrow band of cloth.

Those using this system slip these rings onto their index finger and thumb with the band stretched across the tip of the digit. They get a sense of the weight of virtual objects when the tiny motors pull the band tight around the pad of the finger or slip the band from side-to-side.

The system can be used to represent single bulky objects like bottles when they are empty or have a liquid sloshing around inside them. It can even give the impression of several separate objects rattling round inside virtual containers.

Mr Minamizawa said it could be used in games to give players a more realistic sense of what their character was holding or doing.


Moving the skin around the hull moves an onscreen cursor

This handy gadget aims to be a replacement for the mouse and other interface devices for people using wall-based displays or sitting a long way from a screen.

The gadget, about the same size as a bar of soap, has a loose outer skin that can move freely around a deformable inner hull.

Inside the hull is an optical sensor, taken from a computer mouse, that can work out how far the slippery fabric has moved or detect when it is moved by pressure being applied to the outer hull.

On screen cursors can be moved by sliding the fabric skin around the hard hull.

By squeezing and releasing the hull, the device can be used to click an onscreen button or pull a virtual trigger.

Patrick Baudisch from Microsoft Research who created the device said prototypes had been tested with large wall-based displays, media centres on TVs typically controlled from a couch and interactive games.


String Walker
The system can be used to stroll through virtual worlds

This system aims to make simulations much more immersive by letting people walk through the virtual environment while staying in the same place.

The String Walker uses a broad turntable in the middle of which are two shoes each one of which has four strings attached to it.

Those using the walker put on the shoes and take steps as if they were strolling around. The tight strings are moved to cancel out the step and keep the person in the centre of the turntable but move them on a pace in the virtual world.

Touch sensors in the heels of the shoes work out which foot is being moved.

The turntable can handle sidestepping or walking round corners and rotates to keep the walking person always facing the same way, although their view in the virtual world may have shifted.

Developed by Hiroo Iwata and colleagues from the University of Tsukuba, the system could find an initial use in training simulators for safety courses or for the military.

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