by Jim Spadaccini, founder & creative director
Since Ideum began building multitouch tables back in 2008, we’ve always used the toughest materials and the latest in emerging technologies. Before I started the company in 1999, I worked at the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco. I have always kept the lively Exploratorium museum floor in mind as we’ve developed our products. How can we design touch tables and displays that can withstand the constant handling that comes with hundreds of thousands of energetic visitors?
Our products have been encased in aluminum since the very beginning. As our products have evolved and improved over the years, tempered or chemically strengthened glass and aluminum cases and chassis have served both us and our clients well. With small batch production, we have relied on sheet metal designs, bending, welding, and grinding aluminum to create the durable cases for our touch displays. This method does produce high-quality products, but it is also labor intensive. And since welding is a destructive process requiring specific expertise, the tolerances we are always looking for were not always met in the past.
Last year, we began a new initiative to build a better, stronger display case. We started with a couple of key requirements: the case still needed to be built from aluminum, and it still had to be made in the USA. But we decided to change our manufacturing process to further improve our tolerances and to create an even tougher product. Our Industrial Design team came up with the idea of using extruded aluminum with cast aluminum corners. Envision the design as a picture frame in which extruded aluminum planks are cut at an angle and screwed into cast corners. A sheet metal aluminum back plate is then attached to the frame. This novel manufacturing method—using extruded aluminum and cast corners for digital displays—is patent pending.
The extrusion profile of the aluminum planks and the casting of the corner pieces required significant tooling charges, so we used 3D printing to help build out early prototypes. We did a small initial run of corners and extruded aluminum for our first aluminum prototypes. We learned that the new back plates were significantly easier to build out. Since these are just flat aluminum plates, laser-cut with a small amount of additional machining, we found that it was easier for us to first create prototypes and then make changes to get the manufacturing process up and running.
The process is important, but the final product is what matters most to our customers. The extruded aluminum frame looks beautiful, creates a tight-fitting no-bezel design, and is built within 1/10,000th in terms of tolerances. All in all, it’s the toughest screen case we’ve ever sold. All of our Presenter touch displays and multitouch tables ranging in size from 43” to 86” use this new and greatly-improved design.
Of course, a great touch display or multitouch table uses great components. All of our units are based on LG commercial displays, and our displays and tables all use projected capacitive touch technology—the same as that found in popular smartphones and tablets. This technology is bezel-less and impervious to light interference. In addition, our touch displays and multitouch tables from 43” to 65” use 3M touch sensors, and our 86” model uses a touch sensor from Zytronic. And we use the latest in Intel processors and NVIDIA graphics cards. (In December, we posted What goes into an Ideum Touch Table or Touch Wall, where you can learn more about these components.)
Along with great components, we’ve also developed outstanding software for our touch products. GestureWorks 2 was released this year. This powerful multitouch authoring software package comes bundled with all of our touch displays and multitouch tables. We also sell Tangible Engine, an innovative object-recognition software package, and we will soon release the Tangible Engine Media Creator, a package that will allow anyone, including those with little or no programming experience, to easily author software designed to use fiducial objects on touch tables.
When we started developing touch tables nearly a decade ago, this form factor was a novelty—an unfamiliar, even futuristic interface. Today, it is essentially commonplace. In the early years, we dreamed of creating the kind of hardware that we now build every day. We take a lot of pride in the touch products we develop... and we couldn’t do it without our clients and partners. You have provided key feedback and stuck with us as our products have evolved to be more elegant, more durable, and more powerful, and we plan to continue to innovate and build the best touch displays and multitouch tables to be found anywhere.