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Sony's prototype projector turns any tabletop into a touch-sensitive display

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A step toward holograms

Sony's Future Lab is a R&D group responsible for taking crazy ideas into the prototype phase, and one impressive vision shown here at SXSW in Austin this week is a projector that turns any flat surface into a screen for light to play on. The "Interactive Tabletop" concept uses depth sensors and motion tracking to know when objects are placed on the table and even bring storybooks to life. The project looks like a fully realized version of the augmented reality coffee table inventor and technologist Bastian Broecker constructed back in 2012 using a PlayStation Eye camera and a Microsoft Kinect sensor.

Sony programmed its prototype to recognize a copy of Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland. When the company's representative opens the book, it springs to life with animations that can be dragged off the page and then used to interact with a nearby physical objects like a teacup or deck of playing cards. The tabletop also responds to any finger press by tracking the direction of your hand, while hovering your fingers over any portion of the surface highlights the grid of light the projector uses to monitor your movements.

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Although its practicality right now seems limited, this kind of technology has huge potential. It's not hard to imagine Sony's device as an educational tool to turn novels or history books into animated interactive lessons — or just as a fun way to play games in any environment. More importantly, a projector like this could act as an intermediary between the screens we have now and the type of augmented reality and hologram-based tech we see in movies and promised with projects like Microsoft's HoloLens.

Sony is stressing that Future Lab projects are only prototypes, so it's unclear when we may see this make its way to classrooms or in the form of a consumer product. However, chances are something this cool will leave the lab at some point.

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is not The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis, but in fact Lewis Carroll. We regret the error.