"Surfing the web" has taken on new meaning at a university in Tokyo where scientists have devised a system to turn bath-water into a touch screen. Bathers can add depth to their cleansing experience by manipulating the water to browse a website, watch a movie or even play games.
After a year of experimentation, a team led by Professor Hideki Koike has managed to transform surface bath water into an interactive touch screen that allows images to be manipulated just as they are on conventional screens. Bathers can expand an image to browse a website, watch a movie or even play games.
Whereas the "scroll" command on a conventional touch screen requires a swipe of the hand, a stroke across the water achieves the same goal on the bath water version. A "touch and move" command is accomplished by scooping water, and finger poking completes the same command as touching on a conventional screen.
The system works with three main components. A computer interprets readings transmitted by a Microsof Kinect depth camera which detects hand or finger movements in the water. It then feeds the information to an overhead projector which displays images on the water's surface. Bath salts are added to the water to make it opaque. Clear water
cannot properly reflect images.
Professor Koike says components for the system cost less than $US1,000, with the projector taking up 80 percent of the cost. He says the idea came from the increasingly popular practice in Japan of web-surfing in the bath. He says his system is a water-tight solution for people who risk dropping their device in the water as they browse.
"The bathtub is a place where you can really relax and I think people had nothing to do while in the tub. We believe you can now read a book or when you are busy in the morning, you can quickly read the papers and watch the morning dramas before going to work," said Koike.
And that's not all. The team has created a "space invader"-like game where you bathers can shoot projectiles at virtual jellyfish and a real rubber duck floating on the surface.
When the duck gets hit it quacks and - depending on the version of the game - can fire back with a poo pellet.
The team hopes to apply the system in public swimming pools and amusement parks. They say children in a pool could use it to work together in augmented-reality games. Ederly-care and rehabilitation involving a pool are also possible fields of implementation.
But in the home, Koike foresees this system primarily as a tool for education and entertainment.
"The parent can spend time and educate your child at the same time in the tub now. You can show simple quiz questions on the surface of the water and you can even tell your child 'you can't get of the tub until you answer all the questions' and I think there might be such fun applications," said Koike.
With the advent of touch-screen devices, interactions with devices has become more of a tactile experience and the team thinks it could aslo be fine-tuned to the point where primates might find it intuitive enough to actually communicate their thoughts to us.
"This system is more intuitive then the left-click of a mouse and we think the people who can use it will not just be kids who can't understand language but also chimpanzees and other animals. We think this system might be able to help humans and animals communicate with each other," saidYasushi Matoba, who conceived the aqua display idea while he was taking a bath himself.
The team is currently in talks with bathroom manufacturers in Japan. By transforming bathrooms into interactive theatres, they hope they can clean up