To date, Apple’s mostly useless Touch Bar is the closest the company has ever come to selling a touchscreen Mac. But if you’ve got a spare dollar in your wallet, you could upgrade your MacBook with touchscreen-like functionality all by yourself using this wonderfully clever hack.
Even better, Project Sistine (as Anish Athalye and its creators have called it) doesn’t require you to know anything about electronics or soldering to make it work. You also don’t need to disassemble your MacBook in any way, and you don’t need to order parts from a sketchy website. All you need is a door hinge, some hot glue, and a small, curved mirror that’s mounted at a specific angle to allow your MacBook’s built-in webcam to see the screen below.
The last ingredient of this cheapy touchscreen upgrade is a customized version of Kevin Kwok’s ShinyTouch app. The app relies on the fact that most laptop and computer screens become highly reflective when viewed from an extreme side angle, allowing algorithms to determine when a finger is actually making contact with the display, or just hovering over it.
Using other image processing tricks and careful calibration, the software can also track where a finger is touching the screen, and where it’s moving. Those movements can then be translated into on-screen interactions, letting you pan and swipe through photos, tap buttons, and even scribble letters.
Will your $1 touchscreen function as smoothly as the touchscreen on an iPad? No. Not even close. But the fact that Project Sistine, which was hacked together in about 16 hours, works as well as it does is certainly impressive. And while its current usability ranks somewhere around neat party trick, the underlying technology isn’t that far off from how many other aftermarket touchscreen upgrades work. With a little refinement, these hackers could be onto something.