If you keep getting your gadgets wet because you can’t part with them while taking a bath, maybe it’s time for you to reevaluate your options. As it turns out, it only takes a Kinect camera, a projector, some waterproofed speakers, half a year of coding and an enormous amount of ingenuity to turn a regular bath into an interactive entertainment hub. And that’s exactly what a group of researchers from Koike Laboratory at Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications have done as part of their quest to explore the field of natural user interface design. Their AquaTop Display takes immersive entertainment to a whole new level, unattainable with regular, impenetrable touch displays.

AquaTop works by projecting images onto the surface of the water. Mixed with bath salts, the water becomes milky-white and provides better contrast as a projection surface. The opaque water also reflects the infrared light emitted by a Kinect depth camera, which is responsible for tracking the position of multiple fingers – whether you hold them above the water, touch the surface from above or poke them out from beneath the surface. Both the Kinect camera and the projector are connected to a single PC.

This configuration allows for several innovative interaction modes, impossible to achieve with standard displays, such as scooping up a handful of water with a video thumbnail projected on its surface and then dropping the thumbnail over a video player area to start the video in full screen (or full bath) mode.

Another way to move images and videos is to create waves and have the multimedia assets carried away with the flow. Unwanted images may be removed from the surface by pinching them with three fingers protruding from beneath the water surface and then pulling them under. Plus you can also drag images with one finger and enlarge them with two.

Not only does the AquaTop Display provide novel ways of interacting with multimedia, but it also makes for an immersive gaming platform. The gaming experience is further enhanced by a waterproofed speaker fitted to the bottom of a 23 x 35 x 10-inch (60 x 90 x 25-cm) water tank.

Whenever there is a need for some visual fireworks, the speaker is turned on. As it starts producing sound at the 50Hz frequency, the water shoots upwards in a fountain accompanied by lights from integrated LEDs. The video below shows several games exploring AguaTop Display’s unique interaction modes.

While it is clear that – at least at this stage – the prototype is not meant for commercialization, it has already served its purpose very well by demonstrating the potential of seamless user interfaces that accompany us where traditional ones cannot.

Source: Koike Laboratory at UEC Tokyo