Simon Fraser University students make strides in personal computing

Engineering science students, clockwise from top left: Herman Mak, Mike Ng, Gary Yu, Carmen Tang and their screenless computer the LumenX^3 (not pictured: Davin Mok). | Photo by Caitlin Dawson

Engineering science students, clockwise from top left: Herman Mak, Mike Ng, Gary Yu, Carmen Tang and their screenless computer the LumenX^3 (not pictured: Davin Mok). | Photo by Caitlin Dawson

Five Engineering Science students at Simon Fraser University have joined together to create a screenless computer. The team, named ObelXTech, created the LumenX^3 as part of their Senior Capstone Design Project.

ObelXTech CEO Gary Yu says, “The goal of the class is to use all the knowledge and skills we learned throughout our times in school to engineer a product or service for entrepreneurship.”

When asked how they came up with the idea to create a computer without a screen, team member Michael Ng explains that it was inspired by the film The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which shows a cube that can project a computer interface onto a table.

“We found that was a very attractive idea and it had lots of potential in real life,” says Ng. “We decided to take on the challenge to make it real.”

Beyond the screen

According to Ng, the concept of a screenless computer is not a new one.

“Various companies have tried different approaches, but due to technological limitations during past times, the idea wasn’t very appealing to the common public. And when we started the project, we concluded that the technology nowadays is mature enough for us to revive this idea and make it into a usable and appealing product,” he says.

With the huge strides being made in personal computing technologies, the concept of screenless computers is now becoming a reality. Davin Mok, one of the five team members who created the computer, explains how it works.

“It operates like any other computer, but instead of having a physical screen, it outputs visual data through a projector. Meanwhile, instead of requiring a keyboard and mouse for input, it tracks your fingers to recognize input gestures. The description of the product is quite simple – really, bringing it all to life is the where the challenge lies,” says Mok.

All five members of ObelXTech – Herman Mak, Davin Mok, Michael Ng, Carmen Tang and Gary Yu – attend Simon Fraser University and are currently in the Systems Engineering course with concentrations in Business Administration, Electronics and Engineering Science, to name a few.

A step forward

Ng, the only one in his family to study engineering, hails from Macau and believes that the LumenX^3 is a step forward for technology.

“It means computer users will no longer be limited by the size and fragility of a physical screen; this can also help to enhance multi-user collaboration in various scenarios,” he says.

The computer runs on Windows 8, the most current operating system at the time of creation, and unlike most phones and tablets, it can be used as a personal computer or laptop.

Tang points out that projection opens up more ways for people to see and interact with our data without being limited physically.

“It’s a field that has lots of potential and many benefits over screens that will make it a popular R&D [Research and Development] area in the near future,” she says.

When asked what the future held for personal computers, Mok explains: “With the development of artificial intelligence, robotic assistants like the ones you see in I, Robot or Humans can be a reality. Despite all the worry about how artificial intelligence could potentially be the cause of human extinction, I still think it is something very cool that I hope to be able to see in my lifetime.”

Presently, the ObelXTech team has no plans to mass produce the LumenX^3, but they are always looking forward to the next stage of developing their product.

“Now that we have a proof-of-concept working, we are researching ways to make the projections and touch detection even better, with improved hardware and software. We are definitely open to mass producing in the future,” explains Yu.