You watched with envy as Tom Cruise used those large touch screens in Minority Report. Now the technology could be heading for your home faster than you think.
Microsoft has revealed plans to fast track development of its glitzy Surface computing technology, potentially getting it into homes within a couple of years.
Officially announced last May, Microsoft Surface is a new interface that allows users to access and manipulate data by touching a screen. Early demo units use a 30-inch screen built into a coffee table, however it could also be used in wall-mounted models.
Microsoft goes to great pains to emphasis that Surface is not just another touch-screen computer, but a totally new user interface. Within the device are five infrared cameras, each focused on a different area of the screen. The cameras monitor any objects placed on the screen as well as hand and finger movements made by users.
In early demos, Microsoft has shown how a digital camera can be placed on the screen with digital photos automatically spilling out onto the surface. They can then be moved around and resized by a users simply by using fingers.
Content can also be transferred from one device to another. By placing, for example, a digital camera and a portable music device on the screen, photos or video can be dragged from one to the other.
Microsoft Surface forms part of the company's intention to make computing as pervasive as possible both in the workplace and the home. At a presentation during the annual Consumer Electronic Show, Bill Gates demonstrated Surface and described it as a completely new way for people to interact with computers.
Other early applications include mapping software whereby users can plot a course and then have all the relevant details automatically transferred to a mobile phone sitting on the screen.
There is also potential for it to be used as a payment interface. In this scenario, users would place a chip-enabled credit card on the screen and have money automatically debited from it.
At the initial announcement, Microsoft said the Surface coffee tables would retail for between $US5,000 and $US10,000 each. Initial target customers were expected to be entertainment venues, casinos and large corporates.
However recent indications are that the company plans to fast track development with the aim of getting the price down to the point where they can become consumer devices.