Last week Microsoft Research held the 2008 edition of their annual Faculty Summit in Redmond complete with the release of free academic-flavored software tools and demos of Microsoft Research and faculty research projects. The biggest buzz was over the multi-touch Sphere display which uses a refinement of Microsoft’s Surface technology, but frankly it seems mostly useful as a prop for the villain in the next James Bond movie.
Looking over the full list of demo projects yields a number of others which are more likely to be of real utility including the following for "touch" fans which appeal to my prejudice that I don’t want my screen smudged up, thanks.
Ilya Rosenberg and Ken Perlin present the UnMousePad, a paper thin, flexible multi-touch device about size of a mouse pad. The UnMousePad not only continuously detects a multitude of touches, it also senses varying levels of pressure at a resolution high enough to distinguish multiple fingertips and even the tip of a pen or pencil. Because of its form-factor, it can be used for simple mouse input, for multi-touch gestures, or for a wide variety of interactive applications, such as games, 3D sculpting, 6DOF object manipulation, musical instruments, and interactive control of synthesized human voice.
LucidTouch is a new type of touch screen device. It prevents the user’s fingers from occluding screen contents by allowing users to interact with the backside of the device, yet providing visual control by means of "pseudo-transparency." The benefit of this approach is that it allows making very small touch devices, which is not possible with traditional touch screen technology.
When I starting reading the latter description I thought it implied worse contortions than the average desktop touch screen, but for small devices it seems interesting, not to mention novel. Here’s more (including videos) on both the UnMousePad and the LucidTouch.