Computers & Mobile
Sensesurface adds real knobs to your monitor


Lyndsay Williams of Girton Labs brings us the Sensesurface control interface –

Applications that would normally use a mouse or Qwerty keyboard can be now controlled with traditional knobs. The scroll bar on the right hand side of your computer screen can be controlled with a real slider button. SenseSurface can be used with most laptops with a USB input. The sensing knobs have a custom designed movement sensor to determine position within approx 180 degrees with a 10 bit digital output, linearity typically 1%. The magnetic knobs can be removed and repositioned immediately by picking them up and moving to a different part of screen. A unique sensing x/y matrix is attached to the rear of the laptop screen to detect the control’s position.

It’ll be interesting to see more on this system – details on the magnetic interface to precious LCD surface seems quite important – Sensesurface on Girton Labs [via Matrixsynth]

38 thoughts on “Sensesurface adds real knobs to your monitor

  1. “… within approx 180 degrees…”

    Wow, that’s GREAT!!! oh, wait, no it’s not. Actually almost completely useless.

  2. relax people.
    besides not being for sale – this is an inventive design and seems to be unprecedented.

    if you have scratches on your monitor try contacting your screen’s manufacturer, or do some googling :)

  3. Well, the article mentions they knobs have a “low friction” back which should help prevent scratches. Also, the knob in the video is actually a fixed base with a rotating knob on it, so no worries at all about scratches from that one.

  4. @gunterhausfrau- I would think that a +/- 180* error would be usless too. Bet the inventor might think the same way. sooooooo mebbie:

    It operates over a rotational range of approx 180* with 10 bit 1% bla bla…

    Even though the display shows a close to 270* dial- it is a prototype.

    @CollinC- Nice crowd control. Great posts too. Sometimes I will click on an otherwise uninviting post when I see you posted it. Good job!

  5. this has been being done in a non-movable form for a few years on high end digital live sound consoles. I’m not sure how they do it for that application though and you cant move the knobs around.

  6. Volkemon – I get it now, they rotate 180 degrees, they were talking about the throw, not the accuracy. Oddly enough language is important (this coming from someone who spells it “fisix” not “physics”).

    As Benny Hill pointed out.
    “What is that up in the road…. a head?”
    “What is this thing called…love?”

    Makes a difference

  7. @Shady – It may appear that way because the monitor’s backlight gives the screen graphics lower contrast.

  8. It is pretty clear it is a fake, simply because of the part about how the knobs attach. “The magnetic knobs can be removed and repositioned…” Hold a magnet up to your LCD screen, it doesn’t stick.

    Now hold a magnet up to your CRT. It won’t stick, but it will badly distort the image.

    Also, the whole 10-bit precision withing 180 degrees thing makes it sound like a tongue-in-cheek joke. Not a hoax, but a joke.

  9. This is a fake. The large knob in the video might be real. It looks like its attached by suction and big enough to house a bluetooth controller and battery. Those little ones are fake or just conceptual mock-ups.

  10. crt compatibility was never mentioned

    please keep comments relevant/founded in observation

    perhaps try imagining solutions instead of doubting possibility – that’s ingenuity, and we like it here =)

  11. @Collin – I’m not trying to insult the site or idea. Looking at the link, it seems that they have a lot of novel concepts with no implementations.

    In this case, they look like ordinary pot knobs that wouldn’t have space for a controller, the method they say they use to attach wouldn’t work. I think it is intended to be a concept, not a real product.

    Also, why is there only one picture and no actual demo of it working? If it’s just a concept/mockup that’s how they’d do it. If this were a real prototype, they’d have more info and pictures or videos.

  12. @Oracle – Thanks for elaborating, the added detail helps keep things constructive.

    The smaller knobs do seem likely prototype – I imagine they could be anchored in place via corresponding magnets on the back of the laptop. This setup could possibly offer a simple means of transferring the input movement as well.

  13. SenseSurface is real and working. You can’t see the rotary sensor on the rear, but it is there and connected into USB port.

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ” Arthur C Clarke.

    Lyndsay Williams

  14. @Collin – I’m certainly not saying this is impossible or that it’s even that difficult with modern tech. What I’m saying is that they give enough explaination of how they claim it works to be 100% sure it does not work that way.

    Another example, if it’s connected to a magnetic link on the back of the LCD, how can you possibly remove and reposition the knobs simply by picking them up and moving them to another part of the screen as the description says? You would also have to move the sensor on the back of the screen too. They also mention the unique sensing xy matrix. This is mutually exclusive with having corresponding magnets on the back to hold each knob in place. And further, that means the position of the link on the back determines which knob is being manipulated. It would have nothing to do with the xy position and you could not build virtual control panels in software and just put the buttons on. You’d have to manually arrange the hardware in the back as well.

    What about the real slider button to manipulate the scroll bar? Are they using the magnetic attraction to pull down the magnet holding it in the back? Then what if you drag the window across the screen with the mouse and want to reposition the physical slider button on the screen?

    If that last post is really related to the project, it simply offers more evidence that it’s a fake. Why wouldn’t they take a picture of the sensor in the rear (not in response to this challenge, but it seems only logical that they’d show it originally if they wanted to unveil the device.

    They talk about a custom sensor in the knob, but now in that post the sensor is in the rear. Which is it? If it’s in the knob (as their website says) where does it get power? I can see a passive device in the knob (like a magnet) being picked up by a sensor, but they clearly said the custom sensor is in the knob.

    If the know is held on with a corresponding magnet, how does it keep the center of rotation when you turn the knob? Unless you’re very careful, you’ll be moving the knob across the screen as you turn it (for exatly the same reason that if you touch a spinning drill to a piece of wood it wants to skip across the surface of the wood)

  15. re “If that last post is really related to the project, it simply offers more evidence that it’s a fake.”

    I’m flattered you think it is a fake, it’s not, but I apologise for appearing cryptic, but I need to protect my IP. I worked for Microsoft for 8 years designing sucessful hardware until I left last year to start up Girton Labs, Cambridge, UK.

    I have been thinking for a few years how to make an LCD become tactile and work in 3D and solved the problem recently with the prototype SenseSurface.
    I’m using a new type of sensor that has only been available for a few months.

    Companies can sign an NDA, I am actually looking for a manufacturer.
    Lyndsay Williams

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