Special effects add sizzle to movies on the big screen. The right spices add sizzle to an otherwise bland meal. How about adding some sizzle to plain old kiosk buttons or touchscreens? R. Douglas McPheters, president of HoloTouch, Inc. is ready to do just that. He holds the patent for a touchless holographic interface that enables users to operate electronic equipment simply by passing a finger through holographic images of keys coupled with infrared sensors.
How it works
The holographic control device is powered by a USB port or other standard PC port. The programmable device then projects 1-inch square floating holographic images of its "keys" several inches in front of the hardware, such as a kiosk or cell phone.
McPheters, a lawyer by trade and a writer by hobby, assembled the idea for his patent by putting together holograms and infrared sensors. He quickly admits that both holograms and infrared sensors are not new. What McPheters invented was a patented means of combining holograms and infrared sensors with electronics. Obtaining a patent for this new combination was actually the hard part. The key to obtaining a patent, explained McPheters, is providing enough detail for a design to be built. The United States patent he received in 2002 took close to 10 years.
When asked how he he conceived of his holographic technology, McPheters admitted that it came to him while writing a yet-unpublished novel. His interest was further spurred by a visit to an ATM during the late afternoon one winter day. The sun cast just the right light on the ATM touch screen to reveal how dirty and "gross" it was. (McPheters now uses his knuckles for all ATM transactions.)
Technology works in many markets
McPheters went on to form HoloTouch, Inc. as a means of licensing his patented technology, which initially lent itself to the health care market. Doctors performing hip and knee replacements, for example, routinely use 2-foot by 4-foot touchscreens when aligning body parts. With bloody gloved fingers, they cannot touch the screens, relying on someone else in the room instead. McPheters points out that the holographic interface is completely hygienic and more precise than voice recognition. The keypad easily projects two to three feet in front of the equipment, in easy view and reach of the doctor. McPheters has spoken to a large fast-food chain about incorporating the holographic interface into bump bars used for tracking food orders. With the technology, three or four buttons could be projected one inch to four feet from the bar. Food prep staff could "press" the buttons accurately, even with greasy or wet hands.
McPheters envisions his technology being used in many markets, including automotive, banking, factory floor, gaming, military and home electronics.
Holographic controls in kiosks
While holographic technology may be cool, is it practical for use in kiosks? Absolutely, according to McPheters. The cool factor alone invites users to a kiosk. The cleanliness factor is another reason for incorporating this technology. Perhaps the most important reason to implement holographic controls is security. McPheters explained that his technology offers more security with a 20 degree viewing angle versus standard kiosk touchscreens. The viewing angle makes it more difficult for others to identify PIN and other account numbers supplied during kiosk use.
The downside, said McPheters, is that many kiosk developers want to buy off the shelf. "Our product requires additional development," noted McPheters. "It looks and feels different in each application."
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