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Prototype augmented reality system uses your desk as a display

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Photo courtesy Robert Xiao
Photo courtesy Robert Xiao
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A prototype augmented reality device in development at Carnegie Mellon University projects apps onto your desk and runs from a standard-size lightbulb socket. It lets you convert any surface into a screen that’s as interactive as your smartphone.

The project, detailed in the MIT Technology Review, is being developed by the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon. Called Desktopography, the idea lets you use the empty space on your desk to display convenience apps like a calculator, clock or maps.

Because the system uses augmented reality, the apps can automatically position themselves when you put a real object on the desk. If you need to put a pen, sheet of paper or mug down, any apps in the area will be moved away to a clear space on the desk.

Unlike most other augmented reality devices, Desktopography doesn’t require you to wear a headset. It’s a simpler, “no-wires” approach to future interfaces that’s meant to help you interact with your computer. This means it shouldn’t impede you by placing artificial limitations on how you work.

The researchers hope the projection technology will allow the system to circumvent most of the annoyances of conventional augmented reality, making Desktopopgraphy more appealing and useful in everyday life. By cutting away the boundaries and literally overlaying the digital world on the real, the project’s creators are aiming to create the first seamless blend of the two.

“It’s about trying to break interaction out from our screens and our devices, where they’re separated from reality, and a separate world, really … and try to merge those onto our environment,” Robert Xiao, the graduate student behind Desktopography, said to the MIT Technology Review.

The device uses a small projector, a camera and a single depth sensor to work out the location of objects on your desk and display its apps. Since the camera can identify where you’re tapping, the hardware provides everything needed to turn any surface into a “touchscreen” panel. The system can also track real objects, letting you use a pen to “scroll” through content or slide a book to rearrange apps. The entire device is powered by the standard lightbulb socket it’s mounted in.

Desktopography is currently a functioning prototype but a lot of work remains before it’ll be ready for commercial use. The most significant hurdle to be overcome is the mounting of the camera used to track where you’re tapping.

Multi-touch tracking with a camera is always difficult but the sensor’s placement vertically above your finger makes the issues worse. It cannot accurately identify when the bottom of your finger touches your table, leading to misplaced inputs.

Xiao is optimistic that Desktopography will one day be put on sale. He thinks it could be available within the next five years, letting you put apps and shortcuts on your physical desktop in the year 2022. The technology is described as being “imminently feasible.” Unlike augmented reality headsets, its ease of use could eventually make it popular with consumers.

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Looking to the cloud for digital transformation success

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A recent report from Infosys Knowledge Institute identifies the cloud as the “true key” to successful digital transformation (DX).

Surveying 853 senior executives, representing firms from 12 industries across the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the IKI’s global market research report on the current cloud application landscape — titled Behind the scenes of an intelligent enterprise: moving enterprise applications to the cloud — found that more than half (54%) said that cloud applications are the foundation of their DX.

According to Infosys Knowledge Institute’s press release, the report “highlights drivers and objectives for enterprises to adopt cloud applications, their methods and extent of adoption, along with implementation approaches, strategy and pain points.”

Additional key findings in the report include:

1.) 75% of enterprises have either deployed cloud applications or are in the process of deploying one with high-tech and telecom industries leading in the space.

2.) Nearly 40% of enterprises are looking at standardization of enterprise cloud applications stack versus best-of-breed solutions.

3.) The top four drivers for moving enterprise applications to cloud are:

  • Data security (55%)
  • Increased resilience and availability (51%)
  • Reduced capital costs (49%)
  • Enhanced scalability (47%)

“As digital disruption impacts incumbents across industries, the responsiveness of their operating models is what differentiates the best from the rest,” explains Dinesh Rao, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Enterprise Application Services for Infosys. 

“However, enterprises face many challenges as they navigate the path towards being more sentient, ‘live’ enterprises – including choosing the right cloud approach, technology investments to repurpose and keeping up with data security. We believe the insights from this research can help enterprises with legacy landscapes to accelerate their digital journeys.”

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United Nations Development Programme looks to digital transformation to drive global development

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It’s a “first of its kind” for the United Nations system, but the UN Development Programme’s new digital strategy is looking to “leverage digital tools as drivers of development” as they work toward the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals, explains Senior Reporter Catherine Chaney, who took a closer look at the UNDP’s digital transformation for Devex.

As UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner explained, “we’re trying to make that which UNDP can offer to a country highly relevant. In other words, we have to become ourselves digitally literate and understand how development and this digital future intersect.” 

Steiner hopes the digital strategy, which launched in April 2019, will allow the UNDP to be in a better position to support programs like the flagship program of the Digital Bangladesh agenda. This initiative, in which the UNDP was a key partner, has allowed citizens to use digital access points for more than 150 services within 4 kilometers of where they live, whereas in the past, citizens were required to travel for days to access government services or documents like birth registration, land records, or life insurance.

The result? Bangladeshi citizens saved nearly 2 nearly billion days of time, more than $8 billion in costs, and more than 1 billion visits to government offices.

In developing the digital strategy, Steiner looked inward, at the organization itself: “Digital was a very abstract concept at the country level, where 95% of UNDP’s staff work across the world,” he said.

In one case, head of UNDP’s economic development unit in Ecuador Carlo Ruiz had tried numerous innovations, but scaling proved difficult. “It was not until he saw a call from the office of the administrator asking country offices to put forward proposals that he pitched his idea to headquarters,” Chaney writes.

Ruiz is now working on a project that uses blockchain technology for traceability — for example, of chocolate bars, their first use case. 

“He hopes this project will demonstrate to the private sector how blockchain technology for traceability can be leveraged for social outcomes and financial returns across many products and markets,” reports Chaney.

Also on the horizon for UNDP? Looking at how the digital era might bring new forms of financing — specifically, trying to strike a balance between short-term, on-demand consulting instead of long- term, project-based work.

“A centralized approach often fails because they don’t involve people from the beginning or the demand isn’t there,” said Robert Opp, who joined UNDP as chief digital officer in August 2019. “The “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach leads to fragmentation and duplication of resources,” Opp continued.

Recognizing the importance of people to digital transformation, the organization has started identifying “digital champions” within its ranks, creating a course staff can take, providing an organization-wide webinar on digital strategy, and supporting “digital lighthouse initiatives” — projects that show how tech can have a strong impact on their work. 

“We’re either going digital or we are going out of business,” Opp said. “The world is changing, the needs of our partners are changing, so if we’re going to serve them well and achieve the SDGs, we need to change as well.”

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Data-rich industries stand to thrive in the digital transformation age

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Automation. AI. Machine Learning. It’s all here, but which data-rich industries will thrive in the 24/7 connectivity of the digital transformation age? 

It’s a question asked by Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI, for Forbes.

He has outlined three areas that stand to gain from our data-rich future:

Internet of Things Security 

It might take years until we can see if the IoT “has fulfilled our expectations,” von Gravrock explains, but we’ve already moved from IoT to Internet of Everything, with hyper-connectivity between, well, everything — especially with respect to businesses and manufacturing and industry. An increase in IoT-related data breaches — 15% to 21% since 2017 has shown that we need to set our sights on higher standards. 

“Data science and AI will shape the next stage of IoT development,” theorizes van Gavrock. The sheer volume of data gathered from IoT means that users must be able to trust this connectivity. Anyone who can provide trustworthy, effective, and inexpensive coverage will win.

[More on the IoT and digital transformation]

Network Service and Telecommunications

Telecommunications companies have become like utility companies in the last 15 years, he explains. “You expect to receive clean, drinkable water from your water supply provider. You would also expect your network operator to provide a secure and private connection.”

This is especially important given the staggering amounts of data accessible by this industry.

“This shift can’t happen if the data generated by users isn’t anonymized, crunched, and analyzed by AI algorithms to ensure malicious connections are blocked before they can do harm to the end user.”

[More on telecom and digital transformation]

Creative Industries

Entire industries are about to radically change the way they work, he writes: “The future of work has an emphasis on constant learning, and AI will be there to help you, both as a teacher and as a tool.” 

Also empowering professionals to focus on bringing more value to their work? Automation — something already being noticed in the manufacturing sector. “Instead of heavy lifting, humans focus on managing AI-driven systems that power robotic forklifts.”

But within creative and social industries, for example, music is already being produced and eSports games are being won AI. von Gavrock uses a sports journalist to demonstrate the potential of AI and automation: Articles they write focus on hard facts and what happened. Automation could, in turn, “switch your focus to moderating discussions or exploring new mediums for creating content instead of trying to find a creative way to describe a game.”

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