Aug 2017
by Andreas Köster

Multitouch object recognition optical – advantages and disadvantages

Multitouch scanner table optically detects objects

Object recognition through multi-touch tables enables a variety of intuitive interactions between user and device. Different technologies exist for object recognition, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on the use case.

Object recognition through multitouch tables enables a variety of intuitive interactions between user and device. Different technologies exist for object recognition with each technology having its particular strengths and weaknesses depending on the use case.

On the one hand, there are systems that can recognize and localize objects on the touchscreen surface. This is often referred to as “tangible interfaces”. The recognition here is usually capacitive. That is, analogous to finger touches, these objects trigger multiple touches simultaneously, which are then uniquely identified in their special form.

Optical object recognition on multitouch tables

There are also systems that enable object recognition on the touchscreen surface using cameras built into the screen. These detect special optical marks on the table surface. Due to the integrated camera technology, these devices are usually much larger.
This article focuses on optical object recognition using additional cameras. This can enhance touchscreen applications with new input or interaction possibilities.

Object recognition via camera

Optical object detection is based on a high-resolution, high-speed camera. This can be located above, below or next to the touchscreen. It detects objects next to the touchscreen and not necessarily on the touchscreen surface itself.
For example, the camera can be installed in a niche or shelf of a multi-touch table and detect anything that is briefly held or placed there. Here is an example.

Eine Postkarte wird in die Scanner-Nische des Multitouch-Tisches gehalten

What objects does the multitouch table recognize?

A major advantage of optical object recognition is that, with the right software, all previously trained objects can be recognised and configured actions can be triggered. For example, any number of flyers, brochures and postcards can be stored as an image file in the software. The camera then recognises these and displays the appropriate digital content on the table.

The camera even recognises products and other objects based on their packaging, colour and shape. Due to the high flexibility of the camera used, unattractive barcodes or QR codes are only required in exceptional cases, where the camera alone has to help.

There are also numerous applications for previously unknown objects. At trade fairs, for example, business cards or badges can be captured and used digitally on the touchscreen. (Anyone hoping for fully automated data transfer to a CRM system will be disappointed. The content and designations on business cards are too varied for fully automated data storage, so some manual control is still required).

Advantages of optical object recognition

In general, optical object recognition is best suited for printed materials that are displayed near the touch screen (e.g. flyers, brochures) or that the user carries with them anyway (e.g. business cards, tickets). With no additional cost for markers, any number of objects can be quickly and easily stored in the software and associated with actions. This makes the technology ideal for exhibitions and events. Visitors are often pleasantly surprised at how fast the technology is and that it recognises a wide variety of objects from all sides without markers.

All of these advantages make a multitouch table with optical object recognition particularly suitable for use as an autonomous, interactive information counter or as a “digital concierge” in companies.

Disadvantages of optical object recognition

For larger or more complex objects, optical recognition reaches its limits. In addition, from an intuitive user experience point of view, it sometimes makes more sense to recognise objects directly on the table surface.
As optical recognition is still not very well known, it can be expected that the multitouch table will require more explanation. After all, the user needs to understand exactly when to “show” something to the table.

Infographic: Advantages and disadvantages of optical object recognitionTable advantages and disadvantages of optical object recognition

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