Researchers at Cruiser experiment with new displays. Photo: Supplied
The white-collar workplace has stood the test of time, and remains largely unchanged since the arrival of desktop PCs some 20 years ago.
But that is about to change as displays used for sharing information are revolutionised. Forget the arrival of smartphones, tablets and the odd awkward touch table, stranger devices lie in the near future.
One of the applications US company E Ink has been working on. Photo: Screenshot
Anthony Collins, chief executive at touch technology start-up Cruiser Interactive, has spent a decade experimenting with surface displays at the Smart Services CRC at the Australian Technology Park. He said while most interest so far had come from niche applications such as signage for real estate agencies, that's about to change.
Dr Collins said technologies such as e-ink used in e-book readers has potential to turn any surface into a display.
''Not only do you have your computer sitting on the desk, but the physical desk itself can display things like reminders and Post-It notes and copies of documents,'' he said.
E-ink works by using an electric field to move tiny ink spheres across a laminated surface to create an image. It uses little power compared to LCD and LED displays, although it cannot match them in refresh rate.
Giovanni Mancini, director of product management at E Ink Corporation, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, said the technology could run for up to five years off a single battery for small displays.
His company had received strong interest for applications such as digital signage, including store price tags and restaurant menu boards, and had also created small screens that could be used in offices to display information such as who had booked meeting rooms.
''What our displays are enabling is devices that are integrated into the office environment that make information accessible almost anywhere,'' Mr Mancini said.
As one of the early pioneers of virtual reality, Marc Pesce said people did not always want a fully immersive experience.
''So you have a sliding scale between full immersion in the Oculus, augmented reality with Google Glass, and a lot of other displays,'' he said.
Where Dr Pesce sees virtual reality proving popular is for the analysis of large data sets, which research has shown happens faster in immersive environments.
''This is because you are using the visual cortex to do a lot of the deep data processing,'' he said. ''So institutions that will be doing big data analysis will come to rely more and more on visualisation.''
How we interact with what we see is also likely to evolve rapidly, with Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect sensor and the Leap Motion sensor attempting to bring gesture control to everyday computing.
Canadian developer Thalmic Labs is seeking to perfect gesture control with Myo, an electronic armband that measures the arm’s electrical signals and its precise position, and uses this information to control screens or other device.
Thalmic Labs’ marketing director Sameera Banduk said initial uses focused on hands-free ways of presenting information, but concepts included methods for surgeons to control medical imaging systems hands-free.
''When you are working with Myo you can step away from being right in front of the screen,'' she said.
A similar wristband is also being developed to allow writing in the air. Called Airwriting, it was developed by researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which considers it a perfect complement for speech and gesture recognition control systems.
The list of devices that can be controlled is also expanding rapidly. The 'internet of things' - a term used to describe connection of device to device - has already delivered a range of wearable technology, along with drones for everything from military purposes to toys, such as the AR Drone from French company Parrot.
And that technology may soon make its way into the white-collar workplace. The managing director for Parrot in Australia, Chris Roberts, said the company had invested in a developer that used drone technology for in-building security, with drones acting as mobile roaming security cameras.
''It can be fully automated and it’s giving a multi-view - it’s not a fixed camera up in the roof,'' he said.