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Chrysalis: Natural User Interface in Paperwork
Large Image Display:Chrysalis: Natural User Interface in Paperwork


Chrysalis is a very dark French film. It aired in 2007, and has two versions. One, in French, conveys the original intent of this cyberpunk-themed film noire movie. The other, in English, hams it up ridiculously.

We would always recommend procuring the French version of this film - with subtitles - to take in the original intent, and to avoid the urge to switch the TV off. The film itself is at times mediocre, at times brilliant. However, it is as a rich breeding ground to visual examples of potential uses of VR and related technologies that the film truly shines. In each case, it cannot help but pause and contemplate the social and legal effects of such.

This Still

This still shows one of the ideal pinnacles of natural user interfaces. With the emphasis of the term being on Natural User Interfaces, the holy grail of such an interface as it were, is to provide an interface where the user is barely aware they are using a computer system – or not aware at all.

This particular pinnacle is a table interface, similar to the Google table or Microsoft Surface. It is a multi-touch display surface whose entire upper area serves as a desktop area, with sufficient handwriting recognition to be able to copy down anything the user writes upon it. At the same time, enough damage resistance to be able to function as a normal desk – able to take coffee cups, things spilt on it, things dropped on it, all the punishment a desk could reasonably go through.

In this instance, the Police Commissioner is using it to catch up on her paperwork. Paperwork that is, with all the efficiency of a computerised system and all the efficiency of a paper-based system. In other words, the best of both worlds.

She has a piece of paper open before her on the desk. At least that's what it looks like. She has a pen in her hand, as she reads through and signs the bottom or makes amendments. Again, that is at least what it looks like. In motion however, it is a completely different scenario.

The 'piece of paper' is projected up from under the desk's surface, onto the active display. The 'pen' is a stylus, a pen with no ink, and internal sensors to tell the table its relative position above it. That part at least is identical to such stylus' we use in our world today. The desk itself is similar, but more than a wee bit more advanced.

She scrawls in mid-air above the desk, holding her hand up comfortably rather than pressing down. If anything a more natural writing position, and one less prone to repetitive strain injury. As she writes across the air above the desk, the desk records the writing. Not through application of pressure – for there is no pressure. Rather it is taking note of two very important factors:

1. The height of the pen above the desk. In a similar manner to modern stylus interfaces, there are position measuring sensors inside the body of the stylus itself, along with a small battery to poawer them. The other half of the system is in the desk itself, under the display surface. An array of counterparts stretching right to the edges, able to pick up the tiny signal from the pen and triangulate its position above the desk and its distance from the surface.
Higher position means weaker signal, and the virtual ink if it appears is drawn much more faintly than down low, and near the surface.

2. A very precise form of gesture recognition. Much more precise than we currently have, which also speaks of an array of signal receivers under the surface of the desk, tracking the pen's position with as many as are nearby. It only writes on the 'paper' when the pen is being used to draw the shapes of letters.

Therefore it must understand the shapes of these letters, and the very fine gestures the user is using to create each. In other words, it has learnt her handwriting style, and is intelligent enough to be able to adapt to variations in that style rather than put the onus on her to be precise.

On top of that the very fine positioning system – likely measured in thousandths of an inch – is able to track the tiny movements to write individual letters, and replicate them near perfectly.

In short form, she writes on each 'piece of paper' like it was a real piece of paper, except one which will never smudge or suffer damage if a drink spills. Will never crease, tear, or discolour. It accepts her handwriting without question ,and without putting pressure on the base of her hand. All the hard work of the interface, all the thinking things through and how to do things, is taken up by the computer system itself, leaving her free to just write.

When she has finished with a piece of paper, she taps with the stylus in one corner, and drags to the other. The 'paper' folds itself in half and waits. With a flick of her wrist she directs it with the stylus, to one of several waiting areas of the desk, visual indicators of outboxes and storage piles. As soon as it has gone, another pops up from a similar 'inbox' area. These areas are the equivalent of folders, connected in real-time to the rest of the police network. The pieces of paper? Files in simple, elegant visual and gesture responsive form.

Everything tidy, everything in its place, and everything electronic, yet customisable totally to the use and abuse habits of the user. All the emphasis on the machine to conform to the wishes of the user, rather than the user conform to the wishes of the machine.


Image 1 of 2 Chrysalis' views on tabletop NUIs.

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