Hands-on with AT&T Labs prototypes: ShadowPuppets and haptic steering wheel

We're not done with the AT&T prototypes yet. After putting our rears in the seat of a Porsche 911 and turning our questionable English into even more questionable Spanish, Ma Bell gave us a glimpse at some super rough devices fresh from the labs. The first one we got our hands on, really didn't need us to put our hands on it. ShadowPuppets sticks a webcam to a pico projector (literally... with gaffers tape) to create a touchless "multitouch" interface for your phone. Rather than have friends gather around your tiny iPhone display or force a person to awkwardly reach across you and tap on your handset, this concept lets anyone simply cast shadows to control the interface. It's not terribly dissimilar from a number of other projects out there, except it's specifically geared at turning smartphone interaction into a social experience. The demo required the assistance of an Alienware laptop, and the pinch to zoom function was a little wonky to say the least. Still, it was pretty easy to see how this might prove useful in daily life.

Gallery | 11 Photos

AT&T Labs prototype hands-on

The other concept on hand was the haptic feedback steering wheel the company dreamed up with help from Carnegie Mellon. While the research may sound compelling, the device it self couldn't be any rougher around the edges... literally. The design consisted of roughly cut chunks of foam taped (this time with packing tape, we believe) haphazardly to a game controller. On each piece of foam was a tiny vibrating actuator connected to an Arduino that dangled below in a vaguely menacing tangle of cables. The sensation as the vibrations travel in circular patterns (clockwise to indicate a right turn, counter clockwise for left), was strange to say the least. But, as the cycles sped up and the turn approached we grew less uncomfortable with the feeling of a vibrating steering wheel. And we actually found the increasing tempo an easier way to discern when a turn was approaching than hearing a robotic voice shout out, "turn left in 500 feet." Check out the gallery above for some not so glamorous shots of the future of tech.