Everyone knows that the future is in multitouch devices, but some may find it difficult to go cold turkey with their physical peripherals. Researchers believe that Slap Widgets might be a solution.
A team from RWTH Aachen University in Germany and UC San Diego have been working together to develop Silicone Illuminated Active Peripherals, or "SLAP Widgets" to bring physical controls to multitouch in the form of plastic and silicone objects. It's kind of a middle ground between physical and virtual devices.
SLAP widgets are transparent. This means we can always show the current labeling using the table's rear projection underneath the widget. For example, we can change the labels on our keyboard from normal characters to shortcut commands when the modifier key is held down. This makes it easier to use command shortcuts and other special keyboard mappings.
Each SLAP widget, like a keypad for example, has visual markers on its bottom side. When put onto a table, the markers are registered by the table using a technique called Diffuse Illumination, or DI.
When SLAP widgets are pressed like for example the keypad, keyboard, and knob, however, there is no additional marker to detect. Instead, a different technique called FTIR, or frustrated total internal reflection, is used: IR light fed sideways into the tabletop stays inside the acrylic surface until disturbed by touch. The camera beneath the table detects the point of touch from the scattered IR light.
As you will see in the video from the project webpage, the technology is pretty damn cool—although, to me, having actual, physical peripherals in any form still seems like a step backwards. [Project Page via Core77]