Zoom, swipe and click without touching screen

SINGAPORE - It may seem like a scene from a futuristic science fiction movie: A person controls the motion of his right hand projected on a computer screen to draw a picture or do online shopping - without having to touch the screen.

But it can happen in reality, thanks to a 3-D multi-touch device called Haptix created by United States-registered start-up Ractiv, which is co-founded by Singaporean Darren Lim, 20.

Haptix allows a user to project an image or a website on a surface such as a table, not just on a computer screen.

The device can be placed flat or clipped at an elevated position. You can then control an object by clicking, pinching to zoom in or out, or swiping to scroll without having to touch the surface.

"It's as intuitive and natural as a multi-touch screen, But it's also 3-D multi-touch. When your fingers are above the surface, you see them on the screen. This way, you know exactly what you're selecting when you tap the surface. It's so much faster than swiping on a trackpad (like a mouse)," said Mr Lim.

Being able to manipulate an object without having to touch the screen is also ergonomic for users, he added.

"When you're touching what you see, it's just like reaching out and touching the screen itself, except your hands are well-rested right in front of you."

Mr Lim rejected a prestigious scholarship here and gave up his studies to become an entrepreneur.

To learn the ropes of entrepreneurship, he successfully applied for the Thiel Fellowship in the US, which is aimed at grooming talented youngsters to become entrepreneurs. The fellowship was set up three years ago by Mr Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor.

Mr Lim is the first Singaporean - and one of 20 individuals globally - to be awarded this year's fellowship.

The US$100,000 (S$127,000) award from the fellowship that he receives over two years enables him to work on his project.

But Mr Lim said the biggest benefit he has gained is the mentorship from Mr Thiel's network of tech entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and innovators.

The Thiel Fellowship is unique in that Mr Thiel believes applicants do not need to be university graduates to become successful entrepreneurs.

One requirement for the fellowship is that recipients must not attend school for two years and are required to focus on becoming tech entrepreneurs.

Said Mr Lim, who is based in Shanghai now: "My parents didn't mind me dropping out of school because there are different routes of education. We believe that university isn't the only form of education available."

Mr Lim co-founded Ractiv this year with schoolmate and fellow computer enthusiast Lai Xue, 21.

To expand adoption of Haptix, Ractiv launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter yesterday. Mr Lim hopes to raise US$100,000 to fund manufacturing costs and software development.

"The Kickstarter campaign is also to create greater product awareness and get feedback from early adopters."

Mr Lim always had a passion for the sciences and computing in school. He would often team up with his friend, Mr Lai, to enter science competitions.

In one discussion for a science project, the duo mulled over the idea of a multi-touch wall.

"We wanted to create a projection on a wall that would allow us to manipulate the image through multi-touch. But the surface was too big, and we needed to do it on a smaller scale first," said Mr Lim.

The youngest of three siblings, Mr Lim completed his national service in March.

As for his future plans, he said he will move to Silicon Valley to grow Ractiv and develop its suite of products.

But he has not turned his back on further education.

"I may consider going back to school to do a computing degree, or pursue a master's degree or even get an online degree. I haven't decided."

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