by Jim Spadaccini, Creative Director and Founder May 15th, 2018
2018 is a special anniversary for Ideum: It has been ten years since we developed our first prototype multitouch table. For our company, this marks a decade of research, innovation, and learning—including some tough lessons along the way. Back in 2008, we were inspired by the first Microsoft Surface touch table, but we wanted to create a bigger table, and one that we could use in museums to develop brand new kinds of interactive experiences.
Our first touch table was vastly different than our current line of multitouch tables. Our prototype table used a projector with 1024x768 resolution, included a couple of internal cameras, and used infrared lights (IR) to create reflected points where a user touched the surface. The PC system used Windows XP as the OS and didn’t even have support for touch. You would use a mouse when in the operating system, and applications were authored using a protocol called TUIO. The most popular authoring environment was Adobe Flash. (If you would like to learn more about the early Ideum MT50 table, you can learn to build your own touch table on Instructables.)
This early prototype did have a few things in common with our current touch tables. With a 50” display, it was large for the time. Made of aluminum and glass, it was built to be very tough. We prototyped with wood for only a few weeks, then switched to more durable aluminum extrusion material (and never looked back). Our table was 31” tall, much shorter than others of the day. To achieve this, we used first-surface mirrors in our projection based tables. Finally, this first prototype was built with ADA requirements in mind—just like all of our tables today.
From this early prototype, we developed principles that would guide what we would build next. Most of our tables have been large to encourage multiple users and social interaction. They have also been tough. If my prior experience at the Exploratorium taught me anything, it was that items on the museum floor get abused, and our tables needed to be highly durable as well as reliable. In addition, accessibility is important to us and to our museum clients and partners, so making our tables ADA compliant is more important than ever.
Additional principles evolved after our first model. We have always tried to improve and iterate. We constantly seek the very best components. Over the years, we have achieved a number of industry firsts: we were first with a 4K Ultra HD touch table and first with projected capacitive touch at 4K. We were also first to add RFID to every touch table and first to bring object recognition to 3M touch tables. All of this work meant that our products were constantly changing, evolving—and improving. We were frequently redesigning to keep up with improvements in display and touch technology and PCs & software, and we even took advantage of new developments in industrial design tools, metal manufacturing, and 3D printing.
On the software side, along with developing dozens of custom touch table applications for a wide range of clients, we also developed one of the first gesture frameworks, GestureWorks. In addition, we were the first to develop an audio accessibility layer for large format touch screens and touch tables. This feature allows people with visual impairments to use gestures to activate audio narration and description of all content displayed on the table. Additionally, our Tangible Engine SDK was one of the first authoring frameworks to support recognition of tangible objects on projected capacitive touch monitors.
For a company whose main area of expertise was initially software and media development, creating a line of hardware products was an immense challenge—but ultimately, an amazingly rewarding one. Over the last decade, we’ve brought in expertise, but also developed talent and knowledge internally. I am grateful to our staff, both past and present, for the evolution of our hardware line. I am proud to say that the touch tables we have now not only have the best components, but they are thoughtfully designed and assembled with a great deal of pride in our workshop here in Corrales, New Mexico.
We’ve now sold our touch tables in 41 countries around the world. They are in four Smithsonian museums, hundreds of universities, and Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks, Google, NBCUniversal, Coca-Cola, and even Microsoft. We are very thankful to have such great clients. And we look forward to the next ten years of innovation!