Utah teenager creates first OS X multi-touch table

Posted by Christian Zibreg

Orem (UT) - Think only multi-billion-dollar corporations such as Apple and Microsoft can create multi-touch devices that react to finger gestures? Think again: A teenager from Orem, Utah, created a home-brew hardware and software solution for a science fair that enables a user to browse the XKCD comics database using multi-touch finger gestures.

Bridger Maxwell, a 17 year-old teenager from Utah, created what appears to be the world's first multi-touch table powered by Apple’s Mac OS X. The science fair project looks and behaves similar to Microsoft Surface and was custom-made using 28 LEDs bought on eBay, a 0.47" thick piece of acrylic worth $30, a spare LCD screen, a modded IR camera and a Mac. The finished system may not be pretty, but it does the job: You can browse a comics database app using multi-touch finger gestures on the table. The teenager developed the hardware and software parts, combining publicly available hardware, open source code and his own applications that glues everything together.

The IR camera was put behind the behind the LCD screen, which was covered with an acrylic surface framed with LEDs. As described on Maxwell's blog, data from the IR camera is first collected by Open Touch, a multi-touch framework developed in a Google Summer of Code project. Another open-source library then interprets the data collected by Open Touch and then sends distilled information to the Cocoa application WSOSC. WSOSC turns the multi-touch information into events that are sent to the comics application Maxwell coded over a period of a few nights.

The comic software allows user to browse XKCD comics released under the creative commons license. It even uses OS X Core Animation for fancy graphics effects: Core Animation is the code library which enables programmers to create complex layered animation by setting the keyframes, while the library does the heavy work of calculating motion and the animation of objects.

Maxwell's system is rudimentary, which is understandable given the limited budget at his disposal. However, talent and passion can go a long and shows what can be done with spare parts. By creating a fully functional, Mac OS X powered multi-touch system, Maxwell demonstrated multi-touch isn't necessarily exclusive to the industry giants such as Apple or Microsoft (at least not if there are some patent loopholes left).