Clockwise from left: a proposed design for the MTmini project, which you can get your hands on on the cheap; the open-source multi-touch TouchKit project, developed by resident researchers at Eyebeam and open to developers; a new entry, the lovely (but apparently not yet available) MultiTouch Cell promises to be a plug-and-play product.

Multi-touch for visualists? It’s coming, and it may have nothing to do with names like Apple or Microsoft. But while many projects now are experimental and pricey, your hands do seem to be close to being liberated from the mouse and keyboard alone.

No word on pricing and no real availability information, but the concept is very cool and the demos look fantastic: it’s the MultiTouch Cell, a plug-and-play, stackable, modular box with multi-touch input capabilities. The idea is to grab one, or two, or twenty of these ready-to-use boxes, running PCs with your choice of OS, and go to town with gesturally-controlled on-screen visuals. On paper (or screens, that is), it looks terrific; the creators say the unit is:

  • Available in 32″, 46″ sizes with full HD or HD-ready resolution
  • High resolution LCDs: full HD or HD-ready
  • Several Cells can be combined into one display
  • Scratch-resistant glass
  • Self-calibrating, built-in diagnostics, and 50,000+-hour expected life
  • Connect the display to Mac, Windows, Linux computers, running their proprietary CornerStone tracking and rendering screen “based on industry-standard libraries and protocols”

Now, naturally, there are more questions than answers here — not only about pricing and availability, but the software specifically and how it can be extended. But there’s no question this sort of thing is the future — which raises plenty of questions about why Microsoft isn’t being more aggressive with their Surface, as they could presumably do just this and make it cheaper and easy for developers. (Project Page)

More Multi-Touch Goodness

While we’re at it, here are a couple of related multi-touch projects I’ve seen lately — each, perhaps, more practical for the readers of this site than the proposed Cell project above:

MTmini is a dirt-cheap, quick hack for making a portable multi-touch screen. This is far better suited to audio and visual projects, as you could actually use it as a performance tool, whereas a full-blown multi-touch table or vertical back-projected display may be too large to transport easily or fit in the cramped performance environs in which so many of us play. Seen via Hack ‘n Mod.

TouchKit Version 2.0 from stefanix on Vimeo.

The TouchKit dev kit and the corresponding Cubit multi-touch display are along the lines of the Cell above, but completely open. The software runs OpenFrameWorks, the C++ coding environment inspired by Processing. It’s being developed at the Eyebeam lab. Two advantages over the MultiTouch cell: one, it’s all open source, meaning you know what you’re getting, and two, you can actually go order a kit right now.

You can see how cool this is from the above video demo.

TouchKit/Cubit got a nice press hit in a really well-done round-up of DIY multi-touch and alternative inputs in MIT Technology Review (via Engadget).

I had to miss the public demo, but I hope to sit down with the TouchKit folks soon here in New York, so stay tuned. Got questions you’d want to ask them, or thoughts on the future of multi-touch you’d like them to reflect upon? Say so in comments.

Appealing as the MultiTouch Cell design is, I’m most interested in the open-source Cubit, and, since I can both lift and afford them unlike the other options here, smaller DIY hacks.

Bottom line: I think multi-touch is likely to have a central place in the visualist world, not only for the obvious interactive/installation applications, but because it’s an ideal interface for controlling visuals and objects in space for performance. We’ll be watching.