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Surface Computing

  • Multi-display Environments
  • Public Displays
  • Device coupling
A Surface User Interface (SUI) is a class of user interface which relies on a self illuminated (e.g. LCD) or projected horizontal, vertical or spherical interactive surface coupled with control of computation into the same physical surface (e.g. a touch-screen). As with a tangible user interface the outputs and inputs to a SUI are tightly-coupled. They rely on computational techniques including computer vision, resistive membrane, capacitive and surface acoustic wave detection, to determine user input to the system. They are often used in public places (kiosks, ATMs) or small personal devices (PDA, iPhone) where a separate keyboard and mouse cannot or should not be used. The scale of a SUI can range from small personal devices such as the iPhone or PDA, through an iPad or Tablet PC up to large public interactive surfaces such as the MERL DiamondTouch or Microsoft Surface. Further details on the scale of such displays can be found in our paper for a taxonomy for and analysis of multi- person-display ecosystems.

Electronic display devices are now ubiquitous in a broad spectrum of everyday life environments, consider for example the penetration of televisions, monitors and mobile devices. Each has a different form factor and portability characteristics, each supports a variety of interaction techniques and can often be used by a variable number of people. Around the world, Ubiquitous Computing research and development groups are exploring mobile and embedded devices in almost every type of physical artefact including home and work surfaces, cars, toys, tools, homes, appliances and clothing.

The Human Interface Technology Laboratory Australia is interested in User Interfaces for Ubiquitous Computing and has an active research interest in interactive displays, interactive work and home surfaces, touch sensitive displays (of any scale) and multi-display interaction. Generally speaking, we refer to these as Surface User Interfaces or SUIs. It's important to note our definition includes scenarios of use with devices such as the Entertaible, SmartSkin, EnhancedDesk, Microsoft SurfaceTMDiamondTouch TM, iPadTM and iPhoneTM but it is not limited to just these, nor is it the same. In the HCI labs in St Andrews we have a MERL DiamondTouch along with embedded and mobile display devices. In 2010 Professor Quigley organized a workshop on coupled display visual interfaces on May 25, 2010 in Rome, Italy in conjunction with AVI 2010, the International Working Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces.


  1. Terrenghi L., Quigley A. and Dix A., "A taxonomy for and analysis of multi- person-display ecosystems", Journal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 
  2. Quigley A, "User Interfaces for Ubiquitous Computing", Book Chapter in Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals Chapman & Hall/CRC, 2009
  3. PPD10, a workshop on coupled display visual interfaces
  4. Entertaible
  5. DiamondTouch
  6. SmartSkin
  7. EnhancedDesk
  8. Microsoft Surface


Website for Professor Aaron Quigley