With all the talk about Alexa nowadays, you’d think the future has arrived and we have our interface: voice.

But before you give up all your iPads for Echo Dots, take a moment to consider how much you use touch interfaces on a daily basis. While voice will no doubt play a huge role in the future of the smart home, touch continues to proliferate. Not only are car makers adding interactive touch screens, restaurants and pretty much everywhere else we go is getting better touch interfaces, while products in our kitchen like refrigerators are getting better and better touch interfaces.

And now, touch is combining with gesture recognition in a new science-fiction spin on interfaces that is gaining favor among product designers. The ‘projected interface’ – where an image is projected onto a flat surface to make what is essentially an interactive touch screen through the use of machine vision – is a new product interface concept that has captured the imagination interface designers in the kitchen over the past few years.

Projected Interface Demos Are Everywhere

Below are a few high profile projected interface product demos rolled out over the past few years:

Whirlpool, the world’s largest appliance maker, started talking about their interactive cooktop three years ago at CES 2014. You can see in the video how the Whirlpool smart cook top utilizes projected video as an interface.

Over a year later, people were wowed by the projected interface used by IKEA in its 2025 future kitchen concept video:

At this year’s CES, Bosch seemed to embrace the concept of the projected interface, incorporating it into not only a demo of its coffee making robot:

Spotted at #ces2017: coffee robot at the @Bosch booth.

A video posted by Michael Wolf (@michaelawolf) on

And high-end German consumer electronics manufacturer Grundig has been showing off its VUX projection interface concept for the past year and a half:

So, why all this interest in projected video interfaces and, more importantly, why haven’t any of these “visions of the future” made it to market yet?

Why Projected Video Interfaces Are Inevitable

It’s clear why projected video is a popular concept for demos: it looks cool. The very idea of turning any flat surface into an interactive interface is one that, at least for now, wows the user. Of course, that could change over time if these interfaces become more commonplace, but isn’t that true of every new technology? For now, projected interfaces could be used in a variety of interesting ways that consumers would love.

As for appliance makers, projected interfaces present an exciting new way to create consumer experiences. Think about it: Product designers used to working with tiny screens would find a much bigger pallet in projected interfaces, allowing them to create more compelling experiences that open doors to more education, instruction, and marketing content. Projected interfaces would also allow them to refresh their product interface regularly, rather than being stuck with the same small, mono-color screen for the life of the appliance.

If It’s So Cool To Demo, Why Aren’t Projected Video Interfaces In Market Yet?

If the projected video interface is such a crowd pleaser, why does it only seem to show up in concept videos and on trade show floors in “kitchen of the future” concept demos?

Here are a few possible reasons:

It’s still early, and projected interfaces are not quite ready for prime time. Most of the demos we see are all created for highly controlled demo experiences.  It may be that making projected video interfaces work in a mass-market environment in the consumer kitchen isn’t as easy as they’ve made it look in a demo video.

Implementing projected video requires a complicated setup. The IKEA 2025 kitchen concept utilizes a “smart light” concept which would require the consumer to have a specialized projector and an intelligent camera that can then read the gestures of the consumer installed above a table.  The other demos also have separate projection systems installed above the work surface. This type of set up would mean these systems are likely expensive and require a new installation method to which appliance makers and their channels are not accustomed.

Appliance Makers Move Slow. While all of these demos make clear that the projected interface is a promising concept, it’s important to remember appliance makers don’t introduce radical new concepts quickly.

Still, I’m hopeful that maybe Whirlpool, Bosch or IKEA will introduce an actual product at next year’s CES using projected video rather than just a concept demo. I do suspect that some, if not all, of the big appliance makers, are working on productizing projected interface enabled products. I also suspect disrupters may be working on something in this area.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the world’s most disruptive company, Amazon, has something up their sleeves. After all, I keep hearing that the online giant has a bunch of crazy new products in store for us this year, so who knows, maybe the “kitchen computer” of the future is a social robot that has a projection video interface built in to go with Alexa.

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