New software connects interactive displays online

Tabletop displays behave like "big iPhones," experts say.

Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Manitoba in Canada have developed an open software program that allows users to connect interactive tabletop displays over the internet, so users in two different locations can interact remotely with the same display.

Touch-operated tabletop displays are becoming popular in various fields, including entertainment, business, and homeland security—and the use of such technology for educational purposes is not far behind, says Niklas Elmqvist, an assistant professor at Purdue University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who helped develop the web-enabled version of the technology.

The tabletop displays are fairly inexpensive to build, Elmqvist says.

All that is needed is a computer with an internet connection, a computer projector, a large piece of Plexiglass—the one used by Elmqvist and his team is 58 inches by 37 inches—a camera, and infrared lights, which enable users to see when someone is touching the screen.

“They’re like big iPhones, but they’re horizontal—and they’re relatively cheap to build,” says Elmqvist, who adds that all the pieces, including the computer, can be had for a few thousand dollars.

Commercial tabletop displays, such as Microsoft Surface devices, do already exist, but they are significantly more expensive—costing as much as $15,000.

eSchool Media Contributors