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Imaginary Interfaces

Imaginary Interfaces

ImaginaryInterfaces.jpg: 550x425, 28k (June 11, 2010, at 03:34 PM)

Imaginary Interfaces was the PhD research project of Sean Gustafson at the Human Computer Interaction Lab of Prof. Patrick Baudisch at the Hasso Plattner Institute.

Screenless mobile devices achieve maximum mobility, but at the expense of the visual feedback that is generally assumed to be necessary for spatial interaction. With Imaginary Interfaces we re-enable spatial interaction on screenless devices. Users point and draw in the empty space in front of them or on the palm of their hands. While they cannot see the results of their interaction, they do obtain some visual feedback by watching their hands move.

Our user studies show that Imaginary Interfaces allow users to create simple drawings, to annotate with them and to operate interfaces, as long as their layout mimics a physical device they have used before. We demonstrate how this allows an imaginary interface to serve as a shortcut for a physical device and we believe that ultimately Imaginary Interfaces will lead to the development of standalone ultra-mobile devices.


Sean Gustafson. 2013. Imaginary Interfaces. Doctoral Dissertation, Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam.

download dissertation

Christian Steins, Sean Gustafson, Christian Holz and Patrick Baudisch. 2013. Imaginary Devices: gesture-based interaction mimicking traditional input devices. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI '13), 123-126.

download paper

Sean Gustafson, Bernhard Rabe and Patrick Baudisch. 2013. Understanding palm-based imaginary interfaces: the role of visual and tactile cues when browsing. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '13), 889-898.

download paper

Sean Gustafson. 2012. Imaginary interfaces: touchscreen-like interaction without the screen. In Extended Abstracts of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '12), 927-930. (Doctoral Consortium)

download paper

Sean Gustafson, Christian Holz and Patrick Baudisch. 2011. Imaginary phone: learning imaginary interfaces by transferring spatial memory from a familiar device. In Proceedings of the Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '11), 283-292.

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Sean Gustafson, Daniel Bierwirth and Patrick Baudisch. 2010. Imaginary interfaces: spatial interaction with empty hands and without visual feedback. In Proceedings of the Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '10), 3-12.

download paper


  • 2013-08-28 Short paper presentation (Imaginary Devices) at MobileHCI 2013. (Munich, Germany)
  • 2013-04-30 Full paper presentation (Understanding Palm-based Imaginary Interfaces) at CHI 2013. (Paris, France)
  • 2012-11-26 Guest presentation to the Human-Centered Computing Group at the University of Copenhagen.
  • 2012-11-14 Invited talk at Forum sur l'Interaction Tactile et Gestuelle in Lille, France. (full video available)
  • 2012-05-11 Invited talk at Qualcomm in San Diego.
  • 2012-05-06 Doctoral Consortium presentation at CHI 2012. (download slides)
  • 2011-11-17 Invited talk at the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society.
  • 2011-10-21 Guest presentation to Ruth Rosenholtz and Ted Adelson's groups at MIT.
  • 2011-10-18 Full paper presentation at UIST 2011. (full video available, download slides)
  • 2010-10-04 Full paper presentation at UIST 2010. (download slides)
  • 2010-09-30 Paris SIGCHI Chapter hosted by Eric Lecolinet.
  • 2010-07-26 Technical University of Berlin's Quality and Usability Lab Forshungskolloquium (Research Colloquium) hosted by Michael Rohs.

More Materials

Some more info about the prototype implementation from Daniel Bierwirth

Selected Press

  • 2013-11-29 Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten (Germany, newspaper) - Alles unsichtbar.
  • 2013-07-22 Jakob Nielsenís Alertbox (USA, web) - The Human Body as Touchscreen Replacement.
  • 2013-02-26 France 2 (France, TV) - 20h.
  • 2012-03-09 ZDF (Germany, TV) - Wiso.
  • 2012-01-01 T3 (India, magazine) - Palm Play.
  • 2011-07-01 Playboy (Poland, magazine) - Niewidzialny telefon.
  • 2011-05-23 New Scientist (UK, magazine, web) - Imaginary phone lets you answer calls on your palm.
  • 2011-05-23 MIT Technology Review (USA, magazine, web) - The Invisible iPhone.
  • 2010-06-17 Der Tagesspeigel (Germany, newspaper) - Touchscreen ohne Touchscreen.
  • 2010-06-10 Slashdot (USA, web) - German Researchers Show Off a Gesture-Based Interface.
  • 2010-06-09 Popular Science (USA, magazine, web) - 'Imaginary' Hardware Interface Lets Users Wield Their Own Fantasy Peripherals to Control a Real Device.
  • 2010-06-08 TechNewsDaily (USA, web) - 'Imaginary' Interface Could Replace Screens and Keyboards.
  • 2010-06-07 c't (Germany, magazine) - Telefonieren mit Koerpereinsatz.
  • 2010-05-25 MIT Technology Review (USA, magazine, web) - An Invisible Touch for Mobile Devices.
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