Sony Prototype Projector: Cool, New ‘Interactive Tabletop’ Demoed At SXSW

A Sony prototype projector was unveiled at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The Verge reports, the projector is similar in concept to Microsoft’s HoloLens and referred to it as the “Interactive Tabletop.” The device uses a projector to display images on any surface and incorporates depth sensors and motion-tracking technology to track hand movements so that the user can interact with the images being displayed. In the demonstration at SXSW, they showed how the prototype can recognize objects and integrate those objects into the interactivity of the display. While the device was specifically programmed to recognize the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the demo, it was easy to see numerous ways to apply the technology.

Sony’s prototype projector brings to mind images of interactive displays similar those seen in futuristic movies like I, Robot; Iron Man; and Minority Report. Imagine having a computer that had no wires, no keyboard, and no mouse to clutter up the desktop and get tangled into a big mess underneath. If a keyboard is needed, a specific gesture could signal a virtual keyboard to appear or slide out from the side of the display. Motion tracking would register each finger’s keypress and send the information to be processed in whatever way it needed to be, whether using a word processor or playing a game.

Since Sony’s prototype is a projector, there is the freedom to have it mounted in any number of orientations. Having the projector mounted to the ceiling could create an interactive desktop like the one demoed at SXSW. Mounting on a wall in the rear of a classroom could give teachers fun and interesting interactive “chalk boards.” It could even be rear-mounted and projected onto a clear screen to create a display very similar to those seen in science fiction movies.

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With the Sony prototype projector, only a developer’s imagination stands in the way of what could be done with it. Games could take on a whole new element where augmented reality uses everyday objects to interact within the game world. A book from a child’s shelf could become and interactive experience that envelopes the child and teaches them to read in a fun and exciting way. Your kitchen counter could become a display that shows you the morning paper while drinking your coffee, or displays a recipe, cooking instructions, or even a video while you are preparing it. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

However, more development and research needs to be done by Sony. The prototype projector is not without it’s flaws. One of the flaws evident in the video is that of shadow casting. Since the projector is mounted above the table, shadows of the users hands are cast upon the table. Although it was not a big factor in the demo, this could be a considerable hindrance in other applications. After all, it would not feel much like touching a button if the button is projected onto the back of the hand. The same would apply to a virtual keyboard. Keys would be difficult to see, as they would be warped and obscured by the user’s hands.

The Sony prototype projector is in its very early phases of development. According to Blastr, “Sony has no obvious plans to release it any time soon.”

The company has plenty of time to address the projector’s flaws. Sony’s newly formed Future Lab is in charge of the project. If the project gets the attention that has been seen with other Sony products, such as the PlayStation, the finished product is sure to garner much attention and see successful application. It seems likely that consumers will first see the Sony prototype projector applied in a commercial capacity and in education, but consumer market potential seems likely once production and retail costs decrease.

[Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images]