Future Tense

MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens

The phone merges with the computer screen.

Screenshot from Tangible Media Group

Slate video editor Chris Wade thinks that someday—when all data is in the cloud and the materials used to make screens advance—computers, tablets, smartphones, and everything else will converge and your digital life will become a completely continuous experience accessible from any screen, any time. That theory makes sense to me, but especially now that I’ve seen this:

Researchers from MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group and Fluid Interface Group are working on a project called THAW that allows smartphone cameras to identify what’s happening on another screen and interact with it. You can use the touchscreen of the smartphone to highlight files on a computer screen and drag them onto the phone. You can also continuing playing a video game on your smartphone that you started somewhere else.

Philipp Schoessler of the Tangible Media Group told Fast Company, “We live in an increasingly digital world, but that world is fractured between many screens and interfaces. The question we wanted to try to answer with THAW was how can we combine these computer interfaces and screens into a single seamless experience.”

THAW detects position using a smartphone’s camera and a color grid on the bigger computer or television screen. And once the smartphone sensors place the other screen, you can, for example, pinch to size objects on the other screen using the smartphone.

The video above shows THAW’s proof of concept, but long-term the possibilities for the approach are basically endless. If the digital world feels ubiquitous now, this could facilitate a universality for things like  seamless file sharing, video games, and work setups that isn’t possible now. And you could finish reading an article and watching a movie on your shirt sleeve screen while you commute in your driverless car.