Coffee Table and Magnetic Marker Experiment

Finally! A coffee table build using a 40” Monolith in an all maple wooden enclosure. This one lives in my house. I find it funny how often I’ve built systems, built prototypes, and rarely have a fully assembled unit at my disposal for experimentation.

A friend of ours fabricated the adaptive top portion onto our old Geek Chic prototype table build from the Locus days. The construction is all maple — Geek Chic scrap and prototyping is still better than most purpose built tables. The Monolith sits fairly flush to the surface wood. It protrudes just enough to keep a smooth edge to edge transition from wood to metal.

The total build cost for this unit as a one-off custom build would be roughly 4600.00 USD — not bad really, but still pretty high.

I’m currently using it to experiment with various non-direct touch systems such as cover glass with moveable, magnetic pieces. So far this has been a great build. The hardware is as follows:

  • 40” Monolith
  • 40” IR Touch Frame—This build is using a 4-point touch frame (can easily swap out the screen for another with more or less touch points—2, 4, 6, 10, 20, or more…)
  • 1/8” Tempered glass surface
  • Samsung ME40B Commercial display
  • Powder coated steel enclosure to hold the kit together
  • Zotac ID70
  • i3 2nd Gen Proc
  • 4 GB Ram
  • NVidia Discreet graphics adapter
  • Small, easily hidden package.
  • Surge rated power strip to enable single cable out from the table
    • Right now the PC and cables are just tucked underneath on the lower shelf. This will all be attached to a mounting system I’m hanging on the right hand inside wall. Easy to access but out of the way and visually clean.

The result is a quick and dirty interactive coffee table. The table design is such that the LCD hangs from the metal enclosure which clamps the touch and surface glass components together. The Monolith itself is held up on a small lip that exposes all of the inputs and output as well as the vents for the LCD—this allows for adequate ventilation and support for the metal enclosure which in turn carries the weight of the LCD and glass.

The short sides of the table are closed to allow for space to build our PC box and manage cables into a single exit point. The PC box will be movable from the right end to the left end in the event that I want to alter where the power cord exits the system without having to flip the LCD screen.

Current configurations are as follows:

  • Straight direct touch with no cover glass over entire unit. The Monolith surface glass is still present so touch actions are not occurring directly on the LCD.
  • Recessed screen and edging which allows for a top to be added to the unit which hides the touch screen until it is needed, desired. This build results in a slight drop after about an inch from the edge when the touch screen is exposed.
  • 1/4 inch tempered glass topper. This top allows the screen to be seen and used via keyboard/mouse or through the use of magnetic markers which are placed under the glass and then moved with a second set of markers from above.

I’m working on a small collection of markers with different properties, right now I have some thick ones and some thin ones. The thin ones should allow for button like actions as they can be lifted out of the range of the touch and then “dropped” to create touch actions—however, right now, these thin ones will stack if they are brought over each other—work in progress.

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Below is a video showing basic interactions with my first pass test of thru-glass magnetic objects, Alea Magnetic Markers and Refrigerator Magnets!

 

The idea is inspired by the magnetic box toys you see at various science and childrens museums. The external markers can be any object with a nice strong magnet in it, such as a toy truck. The internal markers can be smaller cylinders or less obtrusive objects. The basic idea would be an interactive software that the physical, external objects interact with by manipulating the various “tool-tips” active in the application. The application featured is the Windows 7 Touch-Pack Lagoon screensaver — still a favorite on my older test systems.

A final build would use glass that runs edge to edge or acrylic that hooked around the long edges. Additionally, I’d use clear stand offs rather than the black PC feet which I seem to have an endless supply of..

The key observation from this weekend experiment is that my kids love it! They have been having a great time moving the pieces around and seeing the interaction with the water and the fish. They’re not new to the screensaver, but the physical objects certainly renewed their interest.

The Lagoon screensaver has a neat feature where a touch event left in place causes the fish to gather and “nibble” at the touch point. In a traditional installation, a user has to hold still and let the fish come up to them. I’ve shown Lagoon multiple times at conventions and shows over the years and usually have to demonstrate this element. With the static markers, the fish always come out to play when the screen is idle — a very interesting change in behavior and thus, expectation. My kids are fairly young, they have a hard time holding still long enough for the reward of a finger surrounded by fish. Using these objects, they simply had to -not- touch anything for a few moments to enjoy the arrival of our skittish friends.

As time permits, I will continue to experiment with this table configuration and post my observations.