Towards Interactive Desk Workspaces

Simon Voelker
PhD Thesis, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, September 2016

Touch input is the dominant input method on mobile devices these days. Interactive desk workspaces are a way to bring touch to the workplace using large interactive touch surfaces that allow users to directly manipulate digital content by touching it. In contrast to its success on mobile platforms, touch input has not explored its full potential on desktop workspaces. We believe this is because of two main reasons: First, similar to touch on mobile devices, interactive desktop workspaces lack haptic feedback when interacting with the surface. Second, large interactive surfaces pose ergonomic challenges. If oriented vertically, like the existing displays in a desk workspace, direct interaction is cumbersome and fatiguing since it requires users to constantly hold their arms in the air. However, if the touch surfaces are oriented horizontally, constantly looking at them is uncomfortable and leads to neck pain.

This thesis aims to explore interactive desk workspaces by overcoming both of these issues. To overcome the ergonomic challenges of large interactive surfaces we present BendDesk, an interactive desk workspace that combines a horizontal and a vertical interactive surface into one large desk workspace. In our in-depth analysis, we show that combining both surfaces has numerous benefits, but the issues with direct interaction on a vertical surface still prevail. Based on the results of this analysis, we improve our system by bringing the concept of indirect touch to the desk workspace. This interaction technique allows users to comfortably interact with digital content on the vertical surface through touch input on the horizontal surface, maintaining most of the benefits of touch input. Furthermore, we utilize the user’s gaze to allow them to easily switch between direct and indirect touch input. To overcome the limited haptic feedback of touch screens, we introduce PERCs tangible, physical objects that allow users to manipulate digital content displayed on capacitive touch screens without the need to look at it.