Crystal Ball

We built a 180º field of view spherical multi-person interactive display, called the “crystal ball”. Its design allows a small group of people in the same place or in equivalently equipped ones to jointly interact on the same surface. Like a real crystal ball, it has no facets and therefore no inherent “slots” or positions for those engaged in the interaction; it can accommodate from one to four in the “séance” that occurs around it. Our example is the selection of narrative visual media for common viewing. The typical control system assumes a single user, which is why so many husbands and wives shoot each other fighting for a TV remote control, for example. In our system, each person in attendance has a private area near the equator of the globe and a common area comprising the region roughly above the attitude of the Arctic Circle. In our example, the private area is populated with movies and TV shows. Dragging an image from the private viewing area to the area of the North Pole makes it available for others.

Most computer control systems are intended for operation by a single user at any moment in time. Usually they are input or output systems, such as a mouse. There are exceptions, Microsoft Surface for example was built to accommodate both input and output for multiple users.

We propose a change in this design concept: a hemispherical multi-touch display globe coupled with haptic feedback, sound output, extensible and cross device by nature. This is a system built on web technologies that bridges the gap between the virtual and the physical by offering an open protocol and communication channel.

To test our system we have implemented an intelligent television remote control. Our system presents a personal view of data, such as news and narrative entertainment, for individuals around the hemisphere alongside a group view for simultaneous interaction and viewing. It works for people in the same room as well as among people in different, similarly equipped places. Multi-touch gestures expose and bring into focus the joint commonalities of personal views and present them at the globe’s apex or to any screen communicating with the globe. Instead of fighting over a remote control, this transforms it into a joint activity of search and discovery. The Crystal Ball in this way not only encourages exploration of the universe of media but also the themes that friends hold in common.

Many other interesting applications, such as gaming, data visualization, video conferencing and more can be implemented using our Crystal Ball system.