PC makers have been shipping laptops with touchscreen displays for years, but Apple has yet to follow suit, basically arguing that touch panels are for phones and tablets, not laptops. That may change if and when Apple eventually brings support for iOS apps to its Mac lineup. But for now the best you can do is hack touch functionality onto a Mac.

One way to do that is buy purchasing a third-party gadget like the $99 AirBar, or you can save $98 and just build your own.

The Project Sistine method lets you add (very rudimentary) touch functionality to a MacBook with just about $1 worth of hardware.

Here’s the basic idea: set up a mirror in front of the laptop’s IR camera so that instead of looking straight ahead, it looks down at the screen where it will see your fingers when you reach up to touch the screen.

Software running on the Mac interprets your taps and motions as input… and can tell the difference between a finger hovering over the display and one that’s touching the screen by looking to see when your fingertip is in contact with its reflection on the glossy display.

The touch detection isn’t quite as quick or as accurate as some other solutions. But it’s not bad for a project that came together in just 16 hours and which just uses about $1 in parts that you can find at a hardware store and/or drug store, including:

  • A small mirror
  • A rigid paper plate
  • A door hinge
  • Hot glue

The door hinge and paper plate create a frame that you can place atop a laptop. The glue holds the mirror in place. And the mirror tricks the camera into looking down.

As for the software, a tool called ShinyTouch does the trick of using a 2D camera to capture 3D touch input.


Project Sistine was developed by Anish Athalye, Kevin Kwok, Guillermo Webster, and Logan Engstrom.

via Gizmodo and Hackaday

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5 replies on “Give a MacBook a touchscreen with just $1 of hardware (and some clever software)”

  1. Putting a touchscreen on a Mac? Not going to happen. A full, professional OS from Apple on a touchscreen? Neither. My MacBook Air 11″ just got a new lease on life thanks to Transcend’s 1 TB Jet SSD replacement. My only reasons (besides familiarity) to keep holding on to my Mac in the last 5 or 6 years were legacy software, aka Logic Studio and, to a lesser extent, FinalCut Pro. I am starting to use Ohm Studio now. If it gives me what I need for recording audio, plus the collaborative features (that are a no-show on Logic Studio anyway) work out fine, I’ll just have to see how I can replace FCPro, but that is the lesser evil.
    Funny how I might finally replace an Apple product after 23 years of being a mostly exclusive Apple notebook user with a Microsoft one (some version of the Surface, I guess), but Apple is so far behind the curve in terms of hardware and seems dead-set to keep forcing their vision (or lack thereof) of the future down the throat of users that it is starting to become a liability, just like in the good old Sculley days, with the difference that they can’t dig up Jobs now to replace Cook (who is probably blameless in this anyway because he is not steering Apple into the current direction – nobody is, the boat is adrift). They have had two years to put a 1 TB SSD into the 12″ MacBook and at least another USB C interface (and I am almost resigned about the SDXC slot anyway, see how much of a sheeple I still am?), and they just don’t give a damn. Every exodus in tech starts like this: first the pros leave, and the masses really don’t care for the tech specs, because to them it’s all very much the same, they only care for brand image, and brand image can go down the drain in a matter of days, as facebook is just now (again) realising, so good luck Apple when you have lost the trendsetters for good.

  2. Sounds like the way Apple Car owners get by: only one gear, reverse, so they just look in the mirror to get down the road.

  3. This is a wonderful hardware hack that is worthy Apple’s archaic approach to real computers.

    1. I still play with my Leap Motion in VR. It never was what it was sold to be, but it’s still a fun toy. Still, wasting $1 on a similar toy seems to be reasonable given the function you get out of it.

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