Bill Gates has spent some of his precious time at the Microsoft CEO Summit 2008 demonstrating a new multi-touch interface dubbed 'TouchWall'.

As reported by CNet yesterday, the TouchWall is a six by four feet research prototype similar to the Surface desktop-based multi-touch interface the company has already demonstrated.

Where it differs – aside from in orientation – is the price. According to a quote published by CrunchGear from Microsoft's Director of Envisioning Ian Sands the system will be able to turn “almost anything into a multi-touch interface” for “hundreds of dollars” - a far cry from Surface's $10,000 price tag.

The basic premise involves three lasers operating in the infra-red part of the spectrum and being monitored by an infra-red sensitive camera, with the image being provided by a bog-standard projector. In this way, it operates similarly to the open-source Cubit we reported on at the start of this month. Because the technology is so simple, there is no real limit to the size of the multi-touch interface – given a powerful enough projector and a big enough wall it would be possible to create a TouchWall you'd need a ladder to use.

Interestingly, despite the low cost of parts to develop the technology, Microsoft has no immediate plans to commercialise the system. Whether this is due to the company concentrating on the more technically impressive Surface – which offers identification and communication with Surface-enabled devices that are plonked down on the desktop – or just that it doesn't want to compete in a market where the barrier to entry is so low, I don't know.

If you want to see the tech in action, CrunchGear has a video along with some excellent pictures.

Tempted to play your favourite games with a wall-sized multi-touch interface, or is this technology unlikely to get much use outside of educational environments? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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