tbeta preview from ~ on Vimeo.

Look out: multi-touch has a new rising star. The tbeta library (short, oddly, for The Beta) is an open-source framework for computer vision and multi-touch, and it’s particularly good at following your fingers. It’s a descendent of touchlib, with some of its ideas, though a completely new code base. tbeta now powers the finger tracking routines in the BricK multi-touch table (below), at which we take a detailed look today on Create Digital Music:

Spaces and Roots: Manipulating Sound with Processing + Touch, Tangible Interfaces

The better-known reacTIVision library still runs object tracking on BricK; reacTIVision is likewise open-source and cross-platform, and remains great for tracking objects by patterns called fiducial markers. reacTIVision is the library that makes up part (though not all) of the software in the reactable, the table interface made infamous by Bjork. But it seems tbeta does nicely when it comes to tracking fingertips in place of specially-patterned blocks.

Processing coders can work with either library, thanks to the work the reactable designers did to standardize touch interaction. As Jordan explains:

TUIO is a sort of standardized protocol for sending multi-touch and tangible information from tracking software like reactivision and tbeta to other environments and software to parse and then interpret however you want…


All of this, of course, begs the question of whether Microsoft’s Surface has much time left to be relevant. That platform includes a lot more than just low-level object tracking, but on the other hand, people are demonstrating they’re reasonably happy building the other bits on their own. I think the simple answer would be for Microsoft to be more aggressive making that stuff available and even open-sourcing some parts where it makes sense. (TUIO support, even?) That could be a win-win for the whole scene, because I don’t think it’d threaten the open alternatives, and it could further expand activity in the arena. In the meantime, I think the fact that these platforms are open has some huge advantages when the applications are so wide open. (And incidentally, this research was going on long before Microsoft even mentioned Surface; one service Microsoft’s research team did was to raise visibility. Well, them and Bjork.)

For anyone who doesn’t get Surface or the concept in general, though, take a good look at how nicely these interfaces work – and the one edge they have on traditional computer interfaces, which is that they’re fully collaborative. They’re not the right interface solution for everything, and they’re not perfect – but then, neither was the mouse.

Roots Multi Touch Tangible Installation Teaser from BricK Table on Vimeo.