Disney Turns Your Desk Into An Interactive 3-D Playground

A prototype camera-projector setup brings storybooks, board games, and physical desktops to life.

Disney,a company that knows a thing or two about bringing characters off the page and into the real world, has produced a prototype of a new kind of interface that does just that.

A tiny mobile projector beams out a figure that moves around a surface embedded with invisible infrared-absorbing sensors–a book, a desktop, a game board, a table, or a wall. A camera attached to the projector tracks the figure and reads the code printed in the infrared-absorbent ink, which causes the figure to interact meaningfully with the sensed object. A projected figure can track mud from an illustration of a puddle, or jump up and down on a paper trampoline.

The 2-D image uses anamorphic projection, an optical illusion dating back to Da Vinci’s notebooks, to appear 3-D as it moves across the flat white backgrounds. While the Disney Research prototype, dubbed HideOut, is a handheld device, both the projector and the camera could be shrunk down into a mobile phone, and used for business as well as for child’s play.

We seem to be on the verge of a whole new way of interacting with the digital world, involving wearable devices, screens everywhere, and 3-D gesture control.

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.

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