CNN ‘Magic Wall’ Helps Explain Caucus

It may take magic to explain exactly how we pick our presidential nominees, starting with the enigmatic ritual of the Iowa Caucus.

To help clarify this great mystery of democracy—and others in the upcoming months—CNN unveiled a massive “Magic Wall” on “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer” Wednesday.

No ordinary touchscreen, this massive seven-foot display allows multiple hands from multiple anchors to drag, drop and manipulate data.

“Basically the wall is as close to ‘Minority Report’ as you can actually get,” said CNN Executive Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman, referring to a display manipulated by the Tom Cruise character in that movie. “It’s a fabulous way to interact with information and explain complex things really simply. It’s got enormous capabilities.”

For the Iowa Caucus, CNN programmed it to help explain the caucus process, with virtual objects representing voters as their first and second choices for the nomination got dragged and dropped into different candidates’ camps.

But in subsequent weeks, Bohrman promises more functions. Depending on the programming, it can be used to drill deep into data, manipulate video, explore maps—like a giant iPhone and more.

“I think you’ll really see it grow and evolve as we get comfortable with using it on the air,” Bohrman said.

Bohrman was inspired when he spotted the tool, made by a small company called

Perceptive Pixel

, at the GEOINT convention—a big conference for spies and spooks—in 2006. Bohrman connected the company with the R&D people at Turner (CNN’s parent) who developed the system for CNN’s use. Previously, all the users of the touchscreen were in the intelligence community, Bohrman said.

“We’re putting it into use years ahead of when it naturally would have probably popped up in television,” he said.

Unlike conventional touchscreens, this one has a complex operating system that responds to pressure and friction from multiple users, opening the potential for various applications.

For the Thursday Iowa Caucus, CNN also broke out a new graphics feature just for its HD viewers. In addition to crawling election data on the bottom of the screen, CNN superimposed still more data on the left and right pillars seen only by widescreen viewers.

CNN will show more graphics and effects as the election season rolls along, with some new features likely by Super Tuesday (Feb. 5).