Thanks to Augmented Reality, Your Desk Will Soon Be a Computer Too

In the early 1990s, Xerox Parc researchers showed off a futuristic concept they called the Digital Desk. It looked like any other metal workstation, aside from the unusual setup that hovered overhead. Two video cameras hung from a rig above the desk, capturing the every movement of the person sitting at it. Next to the cameras, a projector cast the glowing screen of a computer onto the furniture’s surface.

Using Xerox’s desk, people could do crazy things like highlight paragraphs of text on a book and drag the words onto an electronic word document. Filing expenses was as easy as touching a stylus to a receipt and dragging the numbers into a digital spreadsheet. Suddenly, the lines between the physical world and digital one were blurred. People no longer needed a keyboard, mouse, and screen to harness a computer’s power; all they had to do was sit down and the computer would appear in front of them.

Despite its novelty—or maybe because of it—the Digital Desk never took off. Technology moved in the opposite direction; towards the glassy, self-contained boxes of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. But researchers never gave up on the vision, and now more than 35 years later, these half-digital, half-physical workspaces might actually make sense.

“I really want to break interaction out of the small screens we use today and bring it out onto the world around us,” says Robert Xiao, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose most recent project, Desktopography, brings the Digital Desk concept into the modern day.

Carnegie Mellon University

Like Digital Desk, Desktopography projects digital applications—like your calendar, map, or Google Docs—onto a desk where people can pinch, swipe, and tap. But Desktopography works better than Xerox could’ve ever dreamed of thanks to decades worth of technological advancements. Using a depth camera and pocket projector, Xiao built a small unit that people can screw directly into a standard lightbulb socket.

The depth camera creates a constantly updated 3-D map of the desktop, noting when objects move and when hands enter the scene. This information is then passed along to the rig’s brains, which Xiao’s team programmed to distinguish between fingers and, say, a dry erase marker. This distinction is important since Desktopography works like an oversized touchscreen. “You want interface to escape from physical objects not escape from your hands,” says Chris Harrison, director of CMU’s Human Computer Interaction Institute.

That gets to the biggest problem with projecting digital applications onto a physical desk: Workspace tend to be messy. Xiao’s tool uses algorithms to identify things like books, papers, and coffee mugs, and then plans the best possible location to project your calendar or Excel sheet. Desktopography gives preference to flat, clear backgrounds, but in the case of a cluttered desk, it’ll project onto the next best available spot. If you move a newspaper or tape recorder, the algorithm can automatically reorganize and resize the applications on your desk to accommodate for more or less free space. “It’ll find the best available fit,” says Harrison. “It might be on top of a book, but it’s better than putting it between two objects or underneath a mug.”

Desktopography works a lot like the touchscreen on your phone or tablet. Xiao designed a few new interactions, like tapping with five fingers to surface an application launcher, or lifting a hand to exit an app. But for the most part, Desktopography applications still rely on tapping, pinching, and swiping. Smartly, the researchers designed a feature that makes digital apps to snap to hard edges on laptops or phones, which could allow projected interfaces to act like an augmentation of physical objects like keyboards. “We want to put the digital and physical in the same environment so we can eventually look at merging these things together in a very intelligent way,” Xiao says.

The CMU lab has plans to integrate the camera and projection technology into a regular LED light bulb, which will make ubiquitous computing more accessible for the average consumer. Today it costs around $1,000 to build a one-off research unit, but eventually Harrison believes that mass manufacturing could get a unit down to around $50. “That’s an expensive light bulb,” he says. “But it’s a cheap tablet.”

WPBeginner Turns 8 Years Old – Reflections and Updates

Today is July 4th which means WPBeginner is officially 8 years old — feels unreal to type this!

Like every year, I want to take a few minutes and do a quick recap of all the major things happening in business as well as my personal life.

WPBeginner turns 8

WPBeginner Story

I started using WordPress when I was 16 years old and started WPBeginner at age 19 with a single mission: make WordPress easy for beginners.

Since then WPBeginner has become the largest free WordPress resource site for beginners.

For those of you who’re new, you can read the full WPBeginner story on our about page.

Personal Updates

New Dad life — Solomon is 8 months old and is quite fun. I used to think that I was good at delegating, but I think being a parent has forced me to push it to a new level.

Solomon Balkhi

Completely out of the blue, I got invited to have dinner with the United States Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. The dinner was held at the Treasury building, and it was humbling to be in the company of several national leaders and top entrepreneurs like Shahid Khan, the owner of Jacksonville Jaguars.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Dinner

I also received the Technology Award from the Pakistani News Channel (GeoTV) where I sat down and got to chat with the new Ambassador of Pakistan for United States.

GeoTV Award

WPBeginner Updates

Thanks to you all, WPBeginner has continued to grow in double-digit percentage (year over year). There have been several notable updates from last year, that I’d like to highlight.

1. New WPBeginner Redesign

In November 2016, we launched our new website design. It came with a lot of improvements, most importantly: our mega guides which I promised in the last year’s update.

We now have comprehensive guides on how to speed up WordPress, improve WordPress security, boost WordPress SEO, how to create an online store, how to make a website, and more.

We are working on creating more mega guides in the coming months.

2. Better WPBeginner Infrastructure

Since the redesign, I have gotten several emails asking about the secrets behind WPBeginner’s fast speed.

WPBeginner Speed

The answer is: infrastructure.

As WPBeginner grows, we need to continuously invest in our server infrastructure. This past year, I worked with the team at HostGator to build a completely custom infrastructure for WPBeginner that’s spread across multiple data-centers to ensure high availability.

I have been a HostGator customer since 2007, and WPBeginner has been hosted with them since day 1 (see my full HostGator review). I want to thank David, Patrick, Matt, Yannis, Chris, Taylor, Mike, Alfred, and the entire team that helped with the upgrade.

We are using Sucuri as our firewall, and MaxCDN as our CDN provider both of which play a tremendous role in our overall website speed.

Last but not least, we’re using DNSMadeEasy as our DNS provider because they’re one of the fastest in the industry.

3. WPBeginner on YouTube

Our YouTube channel has continued to prosper as we add new videos every week. We now have over 62,000 subscribers and 8.2 million video views (this is double what we had last year).

If you haven’t subscribed yet, then please go ahead and subscribe to WPBeginner on YouTube (it’s free). My goal is to pass 100,000 subscribers by the time I write this post next year.

4. Weekly Showcases

Over the last several years, we have continuously gotten requests for theme showcases. That’s why this year, we made it a goal to do weekly showcases on Fridays.

So far it has worked out great, and we look forward to doing more showcases.

Product Updates

Just about every week, I get an email from a reader saying: “I didn’t know WPBeginner was behind that product”. Now we even have a products page in the main menu.

Our suite of WordPress plugins are now running on over 3 million websites. Below are some of the most notable updates:

WPForms

We launched WPForms, a drag & drop form builder last year with a goal to make the most beginner friendly WordPress form plugin. I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job.

It has passed over 1.1 million downloads and is actively running on over 300,000 websites. Best part is that we have an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 with over 652 five-star reviews.

You can download it for free from the WPForms website or from the WordPress.org plugins directory.

Please give it a try, so you can see why so many people love it!

MonsterInsights

Last year, we acquired the most popular Google Analytics plugin for WordPress from Yoast and rebranded it to MonsterInsights. I’m really proud of the updates that we have made specially the Enhanced Ecommerce Tracking, Affiliate link tracking, and more.

If you’re a serious business owner, then check out the MonsterInsights Pro version because it will help you unlock really valuable data in your Google Analytics, so you can take your business to the next level.

OptinMonster

OptinMonster is our flagship product, and we recently announced version 4.0.

The new update included a new dashboard, sub-accounts + permission control, better design workflow, and so much more.

OptinMonster helps you grow your email list by converting abandoning website visitors into subscribers. If you’re not using it, then you’re missing out on subscribers.

Envira Gallery

Envira Gallery passed over 100,000 active installs this year. It’s the most powerful WordPress gallery plugin that’s actually fast and easy to use.

We have over two-dozen addons ranging from featured content gallery to WooCommerce to Lightroom. I’m really excited about the next version of Envira that our team is working on.

Our School in Cambodia

I started a tradition 3 years ago when we built our first school in Guatemala. After building 3 schools in Guatemala through Pencils of Promise, Amanda and I wanted to contribute in a different region.

My friend Neil Patel introduced me to Bill and Nancy from the Cambodian Village Fund. Thanks to their awesome work, we were able to build a primary school in Cambodia. While I wasn’t able to attend the opening ceremony because Solomon is so young, I definitely look forward to going there in the future.

Cambodian Village Fund

Thank You Everyone

I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported us in this journey. I really do appreciate all of your retweets, personal emails, content suggestions, and the in-person hugs / interactions at the events.

You all are AMAZING and without you, there is no WPBeginner.

I look forward to another solid year ahead of us.

Syed Balkhi
Founder of WPBeginner

P.S. We’re hiring a full-time (remote work) WordPress Plugin Developer and a Technical Support specialist. If you or someone you know would be interested in being part of our fast-growing team, then please apply here.