Head-mounted computers like Google Glass are a useful way to view content and interact with the world on the move, but one drawback is the lack of a physical interface on which the user can click, drag or navigate content.
Japan's NTT DoCoMo showed a prototype technology at Japan's Ceatec exhibition this week that aims to fix that.
The technology essentially takes any paper surface — a sheet of writing paper or the page of a book — and with the tap of a finger turns it into a display before your eyes. I got to try out the technology during a demonstration at the show.
DoCoMo's prototype glasses are a clunky affair, designed for engineering tests rather than consumers. They have two clear lenses through which I could see the world. The navigation system works with a small motion-sensing ring, worn on the finger you'll be navigating with.
I reached down and picked up an ordinary paper notebook, but when I tapped on its cover with my finger the outline of a display appeared. Tapping again brought up a simple interface that looked like it had been projected on to the notebook.
From there, I could navigate menu items by swiping icons on the notebook and tapping the ones I wanted to select. Tapping the movie icon played a movie, which appeared to be displayed on the notebook cover.
But the image was produced only in the glasses, and to anyone standing nearby it looked like I was tapping away on a blank page. To them I probably appeared slightly mad, but to my eyes it all made sense.
So instead of using voice commands or tiny buttons to control the display in the glasses, I could pick up something tangible instead. It also worked on a small pad of sticky notes, with the menu adapting to the size by showing one icon per screen instead of the grid I saw on the notebook.
The interface is among a number prototypes for head-mounted displays being demonstrated by NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest cellular operator.
A second, called the space interface, allows a person to manipulate virtual objects. In the demonstration, a virtual object hovered in front of me, and I could reach out my hands and pinch the sides and stretch it to make it bigger.
A small infrared camera on the glasses keeps track of the wearer's hands and interprets those movements to manipulate the object they appear to be holding.
A second demonstration of that technology allowed me to bounce an animated toy bear up and down on my finger. As it descended, I held my hand out to where it was falling and when it reached my finger it bounced back up. I could also bat it from side to side.
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