The 33" Playsurface with in-box computer included is now available for pre-order.
Pre-order price is $2995 (plus shipping).
The Playsurface Team is a small group of engineers excited to bring multi-touch surfaces to the masses. We have been building multi-touch computers for some time, and we have funded our open-source Playsurface through Kickstarter.
We want to explore what we think to be exciting uncharted territories of this technology and in particular how it can help bring people together in collaboration, creativity, and learning.
Visit the Sandbox and Forum for discussions on hardware assembly and software development.
Blob Board and Shipping Update
Update on the Blob Board
We are pleased to report that we are finally getting reasonable performance in the lab from our hardware tracking solution. Many backers already have a Blob Board, but it won't work in the touch detection pipeline until we send an SD card with the software.
The delay now is that we need to come up with a fairly user friendly PC program to allow the users to adjust parameters (like gain and smoothing) to fit their particular table and setting. The Blob Board and software will be set with reasonable parameters, but there is still too much variability system to system to set all parameters with no adjustments. So, there will be more delays before we get these units out to everyone. We apologize for the wait, but from the responses we are getting regarding using CCV, it is clear that the Blob Board needs to be easy to use, and it is not there yet.
We anticipate shipping Blob Boards in May, but that is as firm as we can make it right now. Sorry!
International Shipping Update
The great news is that we have shipped our first international unit successfully using NEX (shipnex.com) and the price to France was much less than any other carrier we have investigated.
We are starting to move through the international backers list and you should see Paypal invoices soon.
Additional Construction Information
Domestic Users are Receiving their Kickstarter Playsurfaces and They Work!
If you have received yours, but haven't started building it, you may be lucky! In this update we will try to aggregate a number of comments and recurring questions that have come to us since the domestic units shipped.
Here is the list:
1. No instructions included! - Yes, we really didn't want to use up all of that paper and ship it all around the world. The instructions are here: http://playsurface.org/index.php/getting-started
2. Where do you wire the camera to? - we shipped the units without the software for the Blob Board, so currently that electronics module does nothing. We are hoping to have the SD cards out soon that will make the Blob Board come to life and simplify everything - but for now, just screw it onto the table and forget about it. Run the camera directly to an open USB port on the main computer (the one that the projector is attached to) and follow the instructions to use the PS Eye driver and CCV. We recognize that these programs are not easy to use, so if you have a little patience for technical hurdles, please be patient for the Blob Board!
3. What do I do with the Blob Board? - See above! It cannot be used yet. We will make a new update when the Blob Board SD cards ship.
4. Power Strip - It is best to plug everything into a surge suppressor power strip so you can turn the LED's and everything else off easily. Alternately, a remote-control wall outlet works well as you can get everything to come on at once with a touch of a button.
5. Casters - We didn't include them. If you want it to roll, install the casters before assembly.
6. Detached Projector Adjuster Screws - We have had a recurring problem with these popping out of the projector mounting plate. If it does, it may require a replacement clip from us to get it back in good shape. Send us an email if you want them - they are not generally found in hardware stores. Be gentle with the adjustment knobs/screws!
7. Pay attention to lines and screw holes - theoretically each of these tables was fully assembled before we shipped, and the lines are correct. There have been some cases in which the LED's were affixed on the wrong side, but none (yet) in which the holes did not line up.
8. How does the wooden top frame attach to the rest of the table? - It fits very snugly but it does not screw or lock in. Careful lifting the table by the top after assembly!
9. Getting and image from the camera - There may be a sticker over the camera and it may take lots of turns (30!) to get the camera to come into focus. The PS Eye driver software that we link to in the "getting started" page can be temperamental. It might be useful to try it on a different machine first and make sure you get an image before pressing on and using it in the table.
10. Top Brace - The assembly instructions may fail to mention which direction is "up" for the top brace. The drywall screws go on top.
11. Focusing the projector - It can be difficult with the projector in the table upside down.There are two separate adjustment rings accessed through the top of the projector. The one with a knob that's easy to find and manipulate without looking is just for image size, you need the grooved one with no knob that's tough to locate for focus changes.
12. Touch Point Inaccuracy - In step 5 of the "Getting Started" instructions, using the default calibration for CCV (with one target in each corner) results in a lot of inaccuracy in the center of the table. Increasing the number of grid targets with +/- and shift +/- before calibrating can fix this.
13. Power Supplies - The LED's use the 12V one. The Blob Board (once it has software) will use 5V. International customers will have to convert to their local wall voltages.
14. Detailed Plans - For those of you who want to mod or rebuild, you can find drawings here: http://playsurface.org/index.php/playsurface-plans
15. How does the projector mounting plate work? - The plate and the wood backing piece are collectively referred to as "Projector Mount" in the instructions. They should be held together by the adjustment knobs that pop into the plate. The projector attaches to the plate with other screws that have to be dropped through the holes in the Projector Mount back board. A magnetic Phillips head screwdriver works well. The only point of the holes in the back board that do not hold the adjustment knobs is to allow you to get the screws into the plate.
16. Countersunk holes on the light rails - should be on top! If the screws seem too short, you may have the rails upside down. The screw heads should go down into the countersunk holes.
Units Shipping:Triumphs and Challenges
We have begun to ship Kickstarter Units with six out of the building! We have put together a first draft of the assembly instructions here:
Here is an image of a built-up unit ready for break-down and shipping:
We will have a software startup page with everything you need to gets started including links to CCV, mouse emulators, and Blue Stacks and new demo games including a touch test application, Zap Slap (our whack-a-mole), and a cute shape sorter for kids. This should get the unit running with games galore to satisfy curious onlookers who watched you assemble it.
The great news is that we have the whole delivery pipeline figured out and it is fast and easy for our Kickstarter backers. We send an invoice by email from Paypal. It has the Playsurface logo on it and you can call or email us directly if you are confused about it. The invoice is for the shipping costs. Once you pay, Paypal immediately reports that to us and we can get your unit out the door. This system allows us to ship to people in order as they pay for shipping and keeps us from having to take credit card numbers, with all of possible suspicions of identity thefting that can imply.
One challenge is that the shipping is expensive. The table ships in two packages, one that is 56" x 38" x 8" (which is the main table) and the other that is 30" x 24" x 12" (which is the sled). We are using FedEx for shipping because they have good online tools, but we checked the prices on UPS and other carriers as well. A typical cost from FedEx just for shipping is around $150. Plus we have to add to that the cost of initial packaging so nothing breaks (which we do at TA with stretch wrap, packing tape, foam, and cardboard) which is about $40 and final boxing using packing peanuts and pallet strapping (which is done at a neighborhood packing store) which is about $75. In the end, domestic shipping prices in the range of $250 is typical. This is much more than we hoped, but TA is not making any money on the process and it is fairly labor intensive. The fact that we have sent out about 12 invoices for the first shipment and only received payment on 6, suggests that this shipping fee is unexpected and for some may change their minds about being a backer. We are working on ways to get the price down, but we need to focus on getting units out, so it is unlikely to change dramatically. If the shipping cost is a significant hardship and you can't pay, we will hold your Kickstarter investment in an account for at least a year until we can get something out to you, so don't panic! We have also had at least one backer decide to come to our shop in Somerville, MA to pick their unit up.
The biggest challenge is that the units going out have the completed Blob Board hardware, but the software is still under development. We didn't want to hold the table hardware any longer, because many users are familiar with Community Core Vision and other software tools to do blob tracking. However, the firmware coding of the Blob Board continues to be a job of extreme pain and sorrow. We have it working as a HID device that is easily recognized by most operating systems, and we have blob detection at about 15fps at a resolution of 320 by 480, which is sufficient for simple touch applications. There is still significant work to do getting calibration and blob disambiguation all working on the blob board. Therefore, the hardware sent does not have the SD card included and we will both send one and put the Blob Board software online when it is done. In the mean time, you can start working with the hardware.
The fact that the Blob Board is not yet complete and TA is completely out of Kickstarter funds is sad news, makes the entire Kickstarter a huge financial challenge for our small company, and we cannot offer any refunds. But, we are very excited about the continued user enthusiasm for Playsurface and we will do what is necessary to complete the system and support our users. We look forward to seeing what our backers do with the hardware and have outlined a number of software applications that we will be working on after units are delivered.
Packing and Shipping
Playsurface units are piling up at TA headquarters! Most of the carpentry is complete for the first run and we are packaging them up for delivery. The image below shows lovable Dave (with Chris' help) doing a flat-pack test run and surveying a stack of his creations.
If you have given us your current email and shipping address, then there is nothing else you need to do until you receive an email from us with instructions for shipping options, unit options, and payment options for shipping. Don't worry, your unit will not be shipped until we get specific approval from you regarding these details!
To ensure quality control, every unit that we are shipping has been completely built, tested, and broken back down to be boxed. The assembly instructions are almost complete and will go up on Playsurface.org soon along with demo software and other downloads. We have been working with the older tables to make sure there are some out-of-the-box games and demos, including a newly revamped version of Zap-Slap (our Whack-a-Mole variant) that went over very well at CES. We have also played a bit with Blue Stacks to make sure that you can get some favorite Android games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja up and running quickly.
It looks like the first Playsurfaces that will ship will be the "Track Table" units as they don't have projectors and are therefore very easy to test and box up. All of the other units will be out the door this month!
CES and Final Build!
A few important updates! First, we took Playsurface to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week and had a great response. It was a good opportunity to ship the unit and assemble it with minimal tools, which worked great and also gave good pointers for the assembly instructions that we are working on now. We talked to toy makers (including Mattel and Spin Master) and the makers of tablets and surfaces (like Samsung and 3M Touch Systems) and lots of educators. Everyone is very excited about the possibilities of the Playsurface. See the images below for a feel of our booth:
We also did a couple of interviews at CES that are available online and give a look at the hardware that will be shipping out to our backers very soon. These can be found here:
In delivery news, the Kickstarter reward units are coming together in our shop and we are working with shipping companies (UPS, FedEx) to figure out the cheapest and most straightforward way to get backers their gear. Backers will probably be receiving a letter from us soon requiring a shipping address and providing instructions with regards to paying for shipping. Please don't just delete it!
Lastly, TA is asking NSF for another round of funding to continue our work with Tufts University getting educational Playsurface applications into classrooms. We have some great demos that have been in high schools in the Boston area and have been a big success. It has been very gratifying to see lab reports with data and procedures centered around the Playsurface! One thing we need to convince the NSF to open up the next phase of the grant is letters from prospective customers, partners, or investors stating that they are interested in the Playsurface and would like to see the development program move forward. If any of our backers or enthusiasts are interested in sending us a letter, that would be very helpful! To simplify matters I have put a template of a letter on Google Drive here:
Thanks for your help and we look forward to getting you Playsurfaces very soon!
Production and Delivery Update
We are pleased to report that full production is underway on all of the Kickstarter Playsurfaces! Dave and James have collectively drilled most of the required 2200 pocket holes, 2200 cuts, 500 routed grooves, and 600 dados. The sawdust piles are so high that you could lose a small dog or roast beast in them. (see photos of Kickstater units in production)
Unfortunately, regarding delivery time, though we've worked as furiously as we could manage, tables are most likely not going to make it to your houses by Christmas. Delays in receiving critical internal parts like the projection sheet and the projectors have pushed our schedule back almost a month. Additionally, we still need to round up all of the addresses and shipping charges from all of our supporters to send the units out. We regret the delays, but we hope that the wait will be worth it...Playsurfaces are coming together and they look beautiful!
On the electronics, the Blob Board is moving forward despite significant challenges. The circuit board has been determined. It is based firmly on the TI Beagleboard design (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beagleboard) but requires specialized image processing firmware and associated Linux kernel modules. The board has a TI OMAP3530 system on a chip with a 1 GHz ARM core and dedicated DSP to speed up image processing.
The Beagleboard layout provides a great combination of features and cost. Unfortunately, programming vision algorithms on it is very difficult, especially since we really want to use the DSP to speed up the frame rate. It turns out that embedded Linux programming involves a level of frustration that should be brought to the attention of Amnesty International. Experienced programmers have wept openly at their desks.
The good news is that the electronics will not slow down the deliveries since we have a first-generation image processing pipeline working. We would love to go further with it, but that might be a next-generation fix, which will require us mailing you a replacement micro SD card.
We also did an exhaustive survey of possible cameras and finally determined that for the cost and performance, we cannot beat the Playstation Eye camera. Sony chose the sensor in that camera wisely, and made it essentially impossible to acquire outside of the PSEye. Luckily It is a well known package that fits great in the unit, it provides the necessary directional adjustments, and Sony's huge volume makes it affordable!
We apologize for the delay, but we are confident that all our Kickstarter backers will have units in January. Happy holidays from the Playsurface team1!
Prototypes and Software: Towards the Delivery!
We are pleased to report that we have nearly completed three mechanical prototypes of the Playsurface (see photos of the units in production).
The goal has been to produce these prototypes serially, modifying and improving as we go, to arrive at the final design. To keep track of these builds we have adopted an alphabetical-presidential naming scheme:
The first prototype is the Abraham. This was reported-on in our last udate, but it was not yet named.
The second is Barack. One innovation on Barack was a new means of inlaying the rear projection surface. The goal is to keep the same display area yet get rid of excess rear projection material and show off the maple hardwood on the top. We also adjusted the inner dimensions of the system, ran heating/cooling tests, and added a small "exhaust" area under the outer lip to add a pathway for hot air coming off of the projector to exit at a high point on the enclosure.
The final system under construction is the Calvin. In this revision the goal is to refine the internal components that hold the projector and lights. These changes represent small tweaks to the geometry and hardeware. In a couple of weeks when the Calvin is complete and fully tested, this will represent the final refinement and the plans will be sent out as 'Alpha' prototype designs to our all our supporters. We are very pleased with how the mechanical elements of the Playsurface have shaped up and hope you will be too.
We have also been hard at work with Blob Board development. We continue to refine the algorithms and have shaved milliseconds in a few areas. We have benchmarked these algorithms on three seperate processors: one ATMEL ARM processor via as well as 2 separate Texas Instrument ARM processors. The ATMEL processor is a 400 MHz chip and we used the open-hardware "Rascal" from Rascal Micro which is developed by our Neighbor Brandon at our local hackerspce Artisan's Asylum. We expected the 400MHz chip to be a little underpowered for our application, but the Rascal was super quick to get up and running, allowing us to take code developed on our Intel desktops and quickly try it on an embedded system. Once the port was sucessful we moved onto testing on our main canidate processor: the TI DM3730 Digital Media Processor. Porting the code to this was also (eventually) successful and we used the BeagleBoard xM as the test system. FInally for completeness we tested the code on an even faster (and more expensive) system, the TI OMAP 4460 via the PandaBoard. The code ran as expected - faster than the TI DM3730. But, the processor chip on the the PandaBoard is not available for low rate production, so until we can ship around 10K units we will stick with the TI DM3730. It provides us with a great ARM chip with a built in DSP for an extra boost of speed if needed. We have tested two cameras with the TI DM3730 and need to select shortly on a final canidate before we start laying out the board's final electronic schematics.
On software, we had the oppurtunity to met with Don of Fluidicity Software, developers of the cool program "Fluidmath" which is a great teaching tool. The program has a recognition algorithm so that it can take hand-written equations as input (typically via a stylus) and convert them into machine-readble code. The user can also simplifiy or plot expressions with handwritten gestures. Using the Abraham table we were able to get the program running using touch input. It is pretty great to see existing applications run first try on the Playsurface! As part of our education push we hope to put this software on three table for classroom testing this fall.
Update: First Prototype!
We have built up a complete prototype Playsurface, the 1st of 4 we envision producing before we start on the deliverable Kickstarter builds. It is a Playsurface 'daddy long legs version' (see pics below!).
The goals for this prototype have been to put our new carpentry jigs through their paces, verify new joinery techniques, improve the 'sled', and improve the IR lighting system. We are pleased to report that we have met all these goals. The jigs worked well and James and Dave were able to put together a table together in record time. The extra dowels along with the pocket screws give the enclosure a solid feel and there is no racking. The sled, which holds the projector, camera and mirror is probably the biggest achievement. Dave was able to remove the springs from the adjustments and reduced the projector mounts to three simple screws (previous revisions required the use of a two wrenches). This improvement reduces the number of parts used and makes assembly and calibration much easier. Finally we improved the lighting system. We have moved to higher power LEDs and indirectly illuminate the surface by bouncing the light off the plywood surfaces. This configuration appears to rival lower power LEDs with diffusers directly aimed at the surface. The indirect light does not produce hotspots, but we are still testing to ensure we have optimal intensity and uniformity. Testing will continue.
Also, Blob Board fans, Len and Joe are hard at work on the video processing algorithms so we should have an update on the electronics in the next few weeks. Cheers!
Update: Playsurface Chassis Development
Along with the blob board, a key to the Playsurface design is a simple, nice looking, easy-to-assemble wood enclosure. Some images below show progress on this front:
Dave and James have been hard at work in the shop building up a variant of the Playsurface for an existing client. Why should you care about us making cool hardware for someone else? Well, we are leveraging this build as an opportunity refine the next-generation hardware design for all our kickstarter supporters.
First, we are refining the joinery approach. We are investigating adding dowels in union with the pocket screws to prevent racking on the large sides. Further, we are building up jigs to ensure that our production build of the kickstarter units will go smoothly. As you can see in the pictures that all along this process we are documenting the revisions so all the supporters who opted for plans will get great documentation.
Stay tuned, we'll have another update shortly!
Update: Touch Blob Signal Processing
Hello all Playsurface friends!
After a brief 4th of July vacation, we are back at it working on the blob board, the embedded camera and processor electronics that are at the heart of the open-source Playsurface touch table.
We described before how our intrepid programmer, Joe, has been quietly developing an application he calls "Ghost Vision" that duplicates the capabilities of NUI Group's Community Core Vision (CCV) program, but in a way optimized for use on the Blob Board processor. Well, Ghost Vision is up and running and it has allowed us to better understand the signal processing chain and the time required for each functions in the chain. In short, the Blob Board must acquire an image with its camera, then process the image such that the IR finger locations are crisp and clear, then detect the size and location of those "blobs" to output touch data.
The process can be broken into seven specific functions, each which takes a certain amount of time using Joe's 2.93GHz Intel Core i7-870 CPU. See the vivid info-graphic below!
On Joe's computer the total processing time is 8.2ms (or .0082 seconds) and runs easily at 60 frames per second with 640 x 480 pixel camera images and a frame time of 16.8ms. As you can see, the highpass filtering is the most time intensive process.
Now, how is this information helpful regarding the creation of the Blob Board? Well, we are not going to put a 2.93GHz Intel Core i7-870 CPU on the blob board, or else it would cost $1000 on its own. So the trick is to figure out how much processing power we need, and with what architecture to allow good performance using a more cost-effective processor. This can be done by determining the number of operations required (which is related to the time it takes on Joe's machine) and figuring out how fast it will go on other platforms. Then we can pick one and start trying the same code on development boards to make sure it will work before diving into the circuit board layout. There are a few things on our minds that we are now working on, using this platform:
1. Is this the processing chain we want to use, or is there a more efficient one (like replacing high-pass filtering with smoothing) that would perform as well or better? We can't put too much time into re-inventing the wheel, but we don't want to blaze forward with a image processing approach that isn't great.
2. Is it possible to off-load some of the whole-frame functions (like highpass filtering or smoothing) to a FPGA (which is a very specialized kind of processor that is configured for a specific set of operations and then do that very fast)? FPGA's can be tricky to program and often reduce flexibility, like user settable parameters, but are very, very fast.
3. If the speeds found above can be replicated on a small-scale processor (like a TI DSP chip) what does the clock speed need to be to achieve our goal of 30 frames per second with 40 to 100 concurrent touch events? What is the associated cost impact?
4. How much time is lost handling the communications of the touch events to the application computer?
We estimate about one more week of investigating this and alternate processing chains before locking down the image processing functions and moving on to trying the software on candidate processor chips to find out how it works and how fast it goes. Stay tuned to learn the answer to these and more titillating technical quandaries!
Update: Working on Blob Board Software!
We apologize for the dropout since the Kickstarter ended, truthfully we needed to attend to the many things that were neglected during the push to funding and regroup after a short rest.
However, we have not been idle! We have developed a few near-term goals and brainstormed over the final architecture for the Blob Board. Here is a short list of our near-term goals:
1. Develop a working version of the blob detection processing chain that can be implemented on the Blob Board
2. Benchmark the processing operations required to determine the computational speed necessary to achieve our target frame rate of 60 frames per second with at least 40 touch events tracked
3. Use this information to help determine a final hardware approach for the blob board, such as the inclusion of a FPGA front end for some processing and the DSP (digital signal processing) chipset to use. We have some in mind, but we want to be sure they have the power to pull it all off!
To this end, our intrepid programmer, Joe, has been quietly developing an application he calls "Ghost Vision" (here is a screenshot of Ghost Vision).
Ghost Vision is similar to NUI Group's Community Core Vision, which it is based on. The controls and image processing pipeline are similar to Community Core Vision, but it is a much smaller program. Ghost Vision is built directly on top of the most recent version of OpenCV (without using OpenFrameworks), and it is written so that it will be easy to replace most of the OpenCV library calls with our own code later on.
The next step is to benchmark this software and determine the hardware design elements so we can start on the PCB layout. More to come!
Welcome to the Playsurface Community
If you helped make our Kickstarter campaign a success (we raised 188% of our original goal) we want to thank you!!
The Playsurface has a bright future thanks to you.
If you missed getting a pledge in for the Kickstarter and want to know when pre-ordering will start for whole tables and components, please sign up for the Playsurface newsletter (over there on the left) and we'll keep you updated.
Also, if you are a hardware hacker and are interested in being an early-adopter of Playsurface beta hardware, or a software developer with ideas that need a working table as soon as possible, sign up to our "developers list" to the left and we will contact you and put you on the pre-order list for beta hardware.
Thanks for visiting!
And don't forget, please sign up for the Playsurface newsletter!