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Thermal imaging doesn’t just illuminate the dark, it now lets you turn dumb objects smart

We’re big fans of augmented reality here at Digital Trends, and every time we see a cool new demo we hope that it might bring the technology closer to reality for consumers. The latest example to impress us was Metaio’s Thermal Touch. The demo employed a FLIR One thermal imaging camera, which plugs onto an iPhone. Combined with Metaio’s augmented reality software, it enables you to interact with basic surfaces — in this example, a paper poster on the wall — simply by touching it.

The thermal imaging camera is capable of picking up the heat signature that we leave behind when we touch something. The software then analyzes the surface you have touched and knows which hand you used. During the demo, there was a poster with six album covers on it, which represented different music tracks you could listen to. All you had to do was tap with your left hand to play a track, or tap with your right hand to down vote it.

Related: Get past the gimmicks and gaze upon the future of augmented reality apps

Metaio had the demo set up with the iPhone attached to a headset to give us an idea of how this might play out in a pair of wearable glasses, or even a virtual reality headset. The idea is to offer an alternative way to interact with the information or environment in our field of view without having to use controls on the device itself. The camera technology that was employed here by Metaio can effectively make any ordinary physical object around you into something smart that you can interact with.

Metaio can effectively make any ordinary physical object around you into something smart that you can interact with.

Other demos they showed off included a 3D scan of a parking lot, to potentially enable your car to find a space and park itself, as well as a demo for trying on virtual earrings to see how they look on a TV screen, without ever having to leave your home.

It’s not difficult to imagine different applications for this, beyond these demos. Anything from shopping in virtual stores, where a tap on a product might trigger an online order and home delivery, to tapping on a 3D model to pull up relevant data about part of it, is possible.

Related: Hands-on FLIR One thermal camera

Metaio’s augmented reality tech has a wide range of potential uses, and the company is trying to attract more partners by showing off some of the possibilities. It already works with major brands, including the IKEA app, which  allows you to use your smartphone or tablet to see how furniture would look in your house. Metaio also enables car manufacturers like Audi to cut down on prototypes by superimposing new design features on 3D models.

The computational aspect still requires some fine-tuning, but Metaio has already managed to reduce the power consumption by a hundred times since they started working on it, making it a viable option for mobile devices. For something like the thermal touch demo to be realized in consumer tech, we’ll need new features like thermal imaging built into our devices, and that will take time, but it’s not necessarily too far away. Wearables could really use a fresh perspective on controls that doesn’t rely on touch. Maybe this is it.