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Hilliges, Otmar (2009): Bringing the Physical to the Digital: A New Model for Tabletop Interaction. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics
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Abstract

This dissertation describes an exploration of digital tabletop interaction styles, with the ultimate goal of informing the design of a new model for tabletop interaction. In the context of this thesis the term digital tabletop refers to an emerging class of devices that afford many novel ways of interaction with the digital. Allowing users to directly touch information presented on large, horizontal displays. Being a relatively young field, many developments are in flux; hardware and software change at a fast pace and many interesting alternative approaches are available at the same time. In our research we are especially interested in systems that are capable of sensing multiple contacts (e.g., fingers) and richer information such as the outline of whole hands or other physical objects. New sensor hardware enable new ways to interact with the digital. When embarking into the research for this thesis, the question which interaction styles could be appropriate for this new class of devices was a open question, with many equally promising answers. Many everyday activities rely on our hands ability to skillfully control and manipulate physical objects. We seek to open up different possibilities to exploit our manual dexterity and provide users with richer interaction possibilities. This could be achieved through the use of physical objects as input mediators or through virtual interfaces that behave in a more realistic fashion. In order to gain a better understanding of the underlying design space we choose an approach organized into two phases. First, two different prototypes, each representing a specific interaction style – namely gesture-based interaction and tangible interaction – have been implemented. The flexibility of use afforded by the interface and the level of physicality afforded by the interface elements are introduced as criteria for evaluation. Each approaches’ suitability to support the highly dynamic and often unstructured interactions typical for digital tabletops is analyzed based on these criteria. In a second stage the learnings from these initial explorations are applied to inform the design of a novel model for digital tabletop interaction. This model is based on the combination of rich multi-touch sensing and a three dimensional environment enriched by a gaming physics simulation. The proposed approach enables users to interact with the virtual through richer quantities such as collision and friction. Enabling a variety of fine-grained interactions using multiple fingers, whole hands and physical objects. Our model makes digital tabletop interaction even more “natural”. However, because the interaction – the sensed input and the displayed output – is still bound to the surface, there is a fundamental limitation in manipulating objects using the third dimension. To address this issue, we present a technique that allows users to – conceptually – pick objects off the surface and control their position in 3D. Our goal has been to define a technique that completes our model for on-surface interaction and allows for “as-direct-as possible” interactions. We also present two hardware prototypes capable of sensing the users’ interactions beyond the table’s surface. Finally, we present visual feedback mechanisms to give the users the sense that they are actually lifting the objects off the surface. This thesis contributes on various levels. We present several novel prototypes that we built and evaluated. We use these prototypes to systematically explore the design space of digital tabletop interaction. The flexibility of use afforded by the interaction style is introduced as criterion alongside the user interface elements’ physicality. Each approaches’ suitability to support the highly dynamic and often unstructured interactions typical for digital tabletops are analyzed. We present a new model for tabletop interaction that increases the fidelity of interaction possible in such settings. Finally, we extend this model so to enable as direct as possible interactions with 3D data, interacting from above the table’s surface.