Today, soldiers who have launched their bird-size drone to scout the battlefield up ahead may cluster around a laptop or tablet computer device to see the results. Tomorrow, the same squad might pull out smartphone devices and jointly play with a projected map of the battlefield to lay out their plan of attack.
Such a scenario has taken a huge step closer to becoming reality with a new projector system created by researchers at Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Tests of the system have allowed people to work or play together on any surface by using handheld devices capable of both projecting images and interpreting the projected images.
That technology opens the door for new interactive experiences in the workplace, education and games. Testers exchanged contact information by dragging the projected file to a projected address book, played games with projected boxers trying to knock each other out, jointly explored a 3-D model by zooming and rotating, and did a simple question-and-answer application meant to teach vocabulary to kids.
"Now that handheld projectors have become a reality, we finally have a technology that allows us to create a new way for people to interact in the real world," said Karl D.D. Willis, a Ph.D. student in computational design at Carnegie Mellon University and a lab associate at Disney Research.
The "SideBySide" system relies upon handheld projectors that emit both visible and infrared light, as well as a camera to monitor the projected images. The infrared light projects markers invisible to humans that help the system see when images move or overlap, so that two people can do things such as exchange video links, favorite songs or pictures using the projector system.
The two projectors ran on a single Apple MacBook Pro laptop for the demonstrations. But researchers believe that the system's program could also run on current generation mobile devices — a powerful combination if projectors become small enough to come standard in new iPhone or Android devices.