Transparent, interactive display developed by KAIST

AUTHOR: Inavate

Communication between humans is complex. Besides the words exchanged includes subtle elements such as body language and facial expressions. Unfortunately when communication goes digital, many of these non-verbal cues are lost. How many times have you personally mistakenly attached tone an intention to the words in an email simply because you could not see the sender’s face?

Professor Woohun Lee at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology however is working towards reintroducing the human element back into digital displays with his TransWall project. TransWall is the result of two years of work with input from the KAIST’s Industrial Design department and Human Computer Interaction lab which is part of the computer department.

TransWall is a transparent screen that is housed within a T-shaped frame and incorporates two overhead-mounted projectors that can project images on either side. The screen itself is made from two sheets of plexiglass, with a clear holographic film sandwiched in between. Infra-red touch sensors can be found on either side of the frames and a surface transducer is mounted in the plexiglass along with integrated microphones.

According to Professor Woohun, one of the hurdles he had to face was selecting the right materials for the screen. He says: “The first big challenge was that we needed to find a transparent display large enough to support face-to-face interaction. We searched a lot but couldn’t find a great contender. Samsung had a transparent display but it has 40 percent transparency, which is not enough for our purposes. In the end we went with the holographic display we are using right now. It has enough transparency and at the same time the display is clear.”

Users of the TransWall can stand on either side of the display and proceed to use the screen as they would any touch-enable surface. The input from the fingertips is detected by the infra-red sensors, sent to a computer to be processed and displayed on the holographic film via the projectors. The transducer is included to provide vibration feedback to the users. Since the screen is transparent, users can not only see their own work but they can also see the person they are communicating with thanks to the transparent display.

There are already some possible applications for TransWall being discussed. Professor Woohun says: “A lot of interest has been shown from the education sector. Face-to-face interaction is very natural for children and kids and they are very familiar with it, which might be one of the reasons for this.” He goes on to further explain the place TransWall might have in the future of education: “We are in talks with a Korean company that provides smart class solutions and systems. They replace traditional whiteboards with touch screens. Now we are in talks to possibly implement TransWall next. Nowadays elementary schools and even kindergarten use the digital medium for education. TransWall can allow users to get that human-feel with social and body interaction while enjoying digital content.”

Businesses can also make use of the TransWall technology. Professor Woohun Says: “In the commercial sector advertising companies are interested in our project.” He thinks that TransWall can offer significant advantages in applications where space is at a premium. “In cities like Seoul and Tokyo which are very densely populated, there may not always be space for tradition displays for advertising. This is where TransWall can help.”

Work on the next iteration of TransWall has already commenced. Professor Woohun says that they are aiming to make the next model smaller, thinner and lighter. They are also planning to add speakers to the mix as well introduce haptic response for feedback.