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Rediff.com  » Business » Now turn your wall or table into a computer!

Now turn your wall or table into a computer!

Last updated on: May 11, 2011 08:40 IST

Now turn your wall or table into a computer!

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Puja Banta in Mumbai


Imagine walking into a bar where the entire bar table is a giant touch screen on which you can see the menu, place your orders, pay your bill, play some games and even interact with the stranger sitting next to you.

This fictional situation will soon become reality as 'mute surfaces start coming to life' with the efforts of Mir Abid Husain.

Husain, along with his partner Mohammed Azharudin, has created a surface computing mechanism whereby large surfaces like table tops, walls or large LCD screen can be turned in to touch screens that are capable of performing various computing tasks.

"We are calling the device Emo2 World -- Emo2 here stands for emotion squared. It can be mounted on a wall, fitted on a table, or built according to your own needs. To describe it in dry technical terms, it is a multi-touch, multi-user interface that can allow several apps to be written for it, and can be fitted into any suitable space in your room," explains Husain.

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Image: Mir Abid Husain and Mohammed Azharudin developed the device Emo2 World.

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"While ordinary touch devices of this size (like an ATM) are single-touch at best and allow only a single application at a time, the versatile 'Emo2 World' allows several to play at once (mostly thanks to its state-of-the-art processor), hinting at apps like a string quartet playing on its four sides in tandem. In essence, the Emo2 World looks like an iPad built for a giant, and on first sight looks like a prank toy," he adds.

So what are the possible applications of this device? "We see five main industries as being especially relevant to Emo2 World. These are hospitality, defence, medical, education and entertainment. The device's sheer size lends itself to several applications, like a war room table, or a scan assimilator in a hospital, or a simple display in a hotel room to place one's orders," says Husain.

"It's applications in education are myriad, with a single tabletop surface hosting apps for learning the keyboard, creating a collage, and even playing board games. In fact, it can be really helpful in educating children with special needs, like autistic children," he says.

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"Our ambitions do not end here; we want to install the device in every coffee shop, hotel and even major thoroughfares for general use. We want to make it ubiquitous," adds Husain.

Emo2 World started as a home project for Abid and Azhar, two Anna University graduates. "If you spend a lot of time using computers like we do, you would feel quiet fatigued. Azhar and I felt the same way about computers when we met in college -- both of us felt that there is nothing natural about the way we interacted with our computers."

"We compared computers today, to our cars - you need to get to the ignition, hold the clutch, set the gear and step on the accelerator to get it moving. Metaphorically speaking, you would need to use the mouse, the keyboard, the light pen and many other things to get things done on a computer. We desperately wanted to change that," he says.

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"We realised that the primary input device that human beings need for a computer is our hand along with the sensory perception of touch. And with this insight, we decided to build our first Touch Computer."

To give a shape to their dream, Abid and Azhar took a teapoy, the three-legged piece of furniture ubiquitous in Chennai, and started moulding it to fit their needs.

In some time they had a working prototype, built equally of imported, purchased and handcrafted parts. They amused themselves, dragging photos from Flickr and playing Ping-Pong and Solitaire.

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Image: Mir Abid Husain.

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For quite a while the device, that used a windows OS, was a diversion from more serious work.

But once the device started taking shape, they realised that they were onto something big. They started showing it to outsiders and were highly encouraged by the positive response they got.

"It was super exciting to watch a bunch of people crowd around our product, trying to touch it. The excitement on each of those faces gave us an adrenalin rush," says Husain.

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The duo's confidence has also been boosted by the positive response they have received at various events where they have presented their plans. Emo2 World won an award for technological innovation at the NASSCOM product conclave and soon after that it was registered with seed funding startup incubator, Morpheus Venture Partners.

Since then, there has been no looking back for Husain and Azhar. Funding has poured in and orders from some prestigious names in the hospitality industry have been secured.

Surface computing is not a new idea. It has been around for some time with giants like Microsoft having announced their own surface computer.

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Other than this, there are various manufacturers around the world making similar devices. But Husain is not worried about competition.

"The bigger companies are too busy to really focus on surface; right now for them there are bigger things to worry about. Several of the smaller companies you see in this space today are simply marketing hardware from larger manufacturers. Many of them don't have their own software -- most Indian companies in this space are examples of this."

"This leaves Emo2 World in a unique position -- we are focusing on building sustainable technology in this space. We are taking time to plan and understand the larger implications from touch computing. We are building our own integrated, driven-by-purpose hardware and software for the future," he says optimistically.



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