Hardware

Microsoft's modular SurfaceConstellations system could redefine IT workstations

The system is open source, and could be used to turn many Surface laptops into a giant touch screen.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Microsoft Research unveiled SurfaceConstellations, a modular hardware system for linking multiple devices together to work in tandem in a workspace.
  • SurfaceConstellations is an open source system for cross-device workspaces, where the mounts are made with a 3D printer.

On Tuesday, at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing System in Montreal, Microsoft Research unveiled SurfaceConstellations, a new modular system for multiple mobile devices in order to create custom workspaces.

The system, fully detailed in this research paper, includes open source software and hardware designed to accommodate many different devices. This also includes linking mechanisms for devices to recognize one another and a template for 3D printing mounts for specific hardware.

The 3D-printed brackets have a conductive material that overlaps very slightly onto the screen of the attached device. Called CapacitiveLink in the paper, this techniques allows a small section of each device to be recognized as a unique touch point, so the devices can be more easily linked. This is demonstrated in a YouTube video.

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A web-based GUI tool can help users set up their particular SurfaceConstellations approach. But, for the most part, the software part of the equation is up to the user, the paper said.

The devices can be set up with no connection, an indirect connection, a local direct connection, or "as part of a distributed model-view-controller (dMVC) architecture," the paper said. While no integration toolkit is provided, users can leverage existing options like Webstrates or XDBrowser, the paper said.

In the example video, the researchers showcased a few example scenarios. In one instance, three tablets were used to create a wide sound mixer. In other examples, multiple tablets were used to create a trading dashboard or to create a Scrabble board for playing against a human opponent.

"The SurfaceConstellation platform enables anyone with access to a 3D printer and multiple tablets/phones to design and construct one's own multi-surface workspace," the paper said. "Similar to the research field of cross-device interactions, we anticipate that an increasing number of available touch-screen devices will soon allow people to use their devices in concert - and that SurfaceConstellations arrangements can help to facilitate people's interaction with this larger number of devices."

Also see

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Image: Microsoft

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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