Computing power can now go wherever people want it

Light Blue Optics debuted its Light Touch technology here at the Consumer Electronics Show, and it is what computers, mobile and fixed, will be ten years from now. As CEO Chris Harris put it, “it transforms any flat surface into a touchscreen.” The concept is disruptively simple. What it really does is unleash computing power from physical, mechanical devices.

Light Touch in an office
 Any table becomes a team work space
Keyboards, mice and monitors are easily broken and awkward to arrange anywhere except a desk. Touchscreens and pads are all of that, as well as being expensive and hard to keep clean. But we’re used to it and anyway, it’s what computers are from a user’s perspective.

Not anymore.

The reference device is about the size of a paperback book and projects a 10-inch image onto a table. It senses the location and movement of your hands, and you can manipulate the image by brushing your fingers across the table top. You can select items, move them about, operate controls, even type on a virtual keyboard albeit slowly for now.

Light Touch technology installed in a restaurant
 Flip through a menu, wipe off the table
A computer – at least the bits humans directly use – can now be anywhere. You can page through a restaurant menu directly on the table. You can play a game, by yourself or with someone else, on an airline seat tray. You can project an ad layout or a circuit diagram onto a conference room table, allowing everyone to work on it together.

It can be permanently installed, as in a restaurant, or carried about, from room to room or in a briefcase.

Plans and directions can be seen and accessed wherever you’re actually doing something. Page through a recipe on a kitchen counter top, or expand a shop diagram while your head is under the hood of your car. Work on your computer wherever you, and your colleagues, happen to be.

Right now, the reference design puts Light Blue Optic’s holographic laser projector into a small unit with an ARM11 processor and 2 GB of solid state storage. It’s battery powered and has WiFi, Bluetooth and micro USB connectivity.

Light Touch reference device
 Light Blue Optic’s first holographic laser
 projector reference product
It has a composite video input, a gravity sensor, a micro SD slot and a headphone jack. The projector output was set at 854 x 480 Wide VGA.

As productized, it’s a mobile accessory – it’ll take video input from a mobile phone – but that’s just a very small start.

The product was integrated by Foxconn, and is being offered as a reference design for the OEM market.

The company won’t talk about pricing or bill of materials cost. Right now, it’s probably very costly to make because the core holographic laser technology is not mass produced. Once production volumes ramp up, costs will plummet, to less than a large touchscreen in the near term and eventually to less than a keyboard and monitor.

This concept unit runs applications written in Adobe Flash Lite. There’s no software developer kit yet, the company says it will run applications written for any touchscreen. Maybe. In any event, this particular device is just a start. It’s the technology behind it that counts, and it can be integrated into any device, or no device at all. Network it to cloud computing resources and the computer – the physical object we know it as – disappears.

The revolutionary services, applications and products this technology enables haven’t been imagined yet. But in the not-too-distant future we won’t think of using computers in any other way.