MIT shapeshifting display

MIT’s shape shifting display allows you to hold hands from miles away 

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Ever since the advent of the iPhone the age of touch-screen interfaces has dawned, pixels have been the default upon which interfaces are built. But that is now. What will the UIs of the future look like? Will touch interfaces continue to be pixel-centric or will we go back to and interface that we can actual touch in 3D?

MIT believes the future of computing is tactile. At the MIT Media Lab, the Tangible Media Group has unveiled their vision of what interfaces will look like in the future. Their vision has been translated into the inFORM which looks like a bed that houses a living organism made of 3d bar charts or pins (similar to the pin screens). It can three-dimensionally change shape in real-time. A very interesting feature is that interaction with the inFORM can be done physically touching it, but also by using gesturing from hundreds of miles away!

MIT describes it as follows:

inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that is able to render 3D content in physical form, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface. Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance. inFORM is a step toward our vision of Radical Atoms

How does it work? It is actually not that complex. We’ve established that the inFORM looks like a bed consisting of bars that can change shape. The shape is changed by each bar changing hights individually. Each bar is connected to a motor under the bed. This motor is controlled by a computer. These bars can not only render 3D objects, but it can also register and adapt to real-lie interaction.
MIT shapeshifting display2
This means that one could play chess by using a separate interface, (i.e. a digital interface) and move a chess piece on the inFORM. If one were to be able to rotate the inFORM 90 degrees so it were facing the inFORM it would be possible to display faces or antire bodies (well, so far, half it). Once the resolution follows a similar path touch screens have Skype sessions of the future may be a totally new and immersive experience!

In the Marvel movie Iron Man we see Tony Stark “grab” one of his files and “physically” throw it in a bin. This is physically manipulating purely digital objects. If you have a 3-D model, for example, you can translate this into a physical 3D object and then manipulate it with your hands to adjust, tweak and transform the digital blueprint. This will help sculpting for example to really get its act into this millennium.

Getting back to tactile interfaces after so many years of touch interfaces may seem like a step back, but from a design perspective we are ending up with an almost indistinguishable clutter of black rectangle screens. Gone are the days of physical buttons, dials, levers, etc. But there is a very good reason to bring the physical back in tactile.

Although our current devices don’t focus on physical buttons or dial wheels, the functionality of them has incorporated in the touch UI design in such a way that we can live without them. At MIT however they say it is not the way it is supposed to be. Humans have evolved by physically interacting with their environments and have learned from tactile sensation. It allows one to learn about about limits, proves physical guidance and adds connection. According to MIT the digital interfaces miss an important element: matter. The obvious next step in technology is to incorporate this missing element. For designers and other creative minds this is shaping into a great new challenge: the combination and collaboration of pixels and the physical world, where time and form are working together with pixels.

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