Powerful computers are becoming small and cheap enough to cram into all sorts of everyday objects. Natan Linder, a student at MIT’s Media Lab, thinks that fitting one inside a light bulb socket, together with a camera and projector, could provide a revolutionary new kind of interface by turning any table or desk into a simple touchscreen.
The LuminAR device, created by Linder and colleagues at the Media Lab, can project interactive images onto a surface, sensing when a person’s finger or hand points to an element within those images. Linder describes LuminAR as an augmented-reality system because the images and interfaces it projects can alter the function of a surface or object. While LuminAR might seem like a far-fetched concept, many large technology companies are experimenting with new kinds of computer interfaces in hopes of discovering new markets for their products.
Linder’s system uses a camera, a projector, and software to recognize objects and project imagery onto or around them, and also to function as a scanner. It connects to the Internet using Wi-Fi. Some capabilities of the prototype, such as object recognition, rely partly on software running on a remote cloud server.
“I’m really excited by the way this would be used by engineers and designers,” says Linder, who believes it could be useful for any creative occupation that often involves working with paper and other tangible objects as well as computers.
Earlier LuminAR prototypes included a motorized arm for the lamp, too. But the researchers are currently focused on finessing the bulb-only version. That design cuts costs and complexity, and also makes the technology easier to adopt, says Linder. “It has zero cost of adoption. You just change the bulb in your lamp,” he says.