While tablet and touchscreen technologies are big right now, a team of scientists from Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon are working on a project that will make tablets and touchscreens seem clunky and archaic in just a few years if they have their way. This project is a wearable projection system called OmniTouch that makes use of a depth-sensing camera (like the Microsoft Kinect) and is able to turn any surface into an interface that can be controlled by finger movement.

Imagine turning your hand into a phone keypad, or your desk itself into a keyboard. Teachers could replace traditional blackboards with wall projections able to be manipulated just as easily as touchscreens are today. Impromptu notes could be jotted down without a need for paper or pencil. A designated navigator (not the driver, please!) could plot out a forward course on a car trip with a map projected onto the glove compartment — no aptitude for cumbersome folding required!

Will Multitouch Interaction Replace Tablets and Touchscreens?Researcher Chris Harrison says that “it’s conceivable that anything you can do on today’s mobile devices, you will be able to do on your hand using OmniTouch.”

In its current state, OmniTouch requires a fairly large depth camera and laser pico-projector to be mounted on its user’s shoulder, but it should be possible to bring the apparatus down to the size of a deck of cards — or even a matchbox, which would make it a much more feasible alternative to the aforementioned touchscreens and tablets these devices are vying to replace.

“With OmniTouch, we wanted to capitalize on the tremendous surface area the real world provides,” says researcher Hrvoje Benko. “We see this work as an evolutionary step in a larger effort at Microsoft Research to investigate the unconventional use of touch and gesture in devices to extend our vision of ubiquitous computing even further. Being able to collaborate openly with academics and researchers like Chris on such work is critical to our organization’s ability to do great research — and to advancing the state of the art of computer user interfaces in general.”

So how soon do you think the world will be taken over with this new, all-purpose technology? And would you feel comfortable using it, or do you think it would be a radical adjustment to what you’re used to?