Shape-Changing Displays Make Virtual Touch Reality

by Kate Repantis on December 5, 2013 · 2 comments

in Design, Research

Photo: Tangible Media Group

MIT Media Lab’s recent invention of the inForm Dynamic Shape Display demonstrates that reaching through a computer screen may not be so futuristic after all.

Under the guidance of Professor Hiroshi Ishii of the Lab’s Tangible Media Group, lead project designers Daniel Leithinger SM ’10 and Sean Weston Follmer SM ’11 have created a surface display made up of 900 individual pegs. These pegs move dynamically based on the hand motions and commands of a person participating remotely.

inForm looks like a pin toy where you can create relief sculptures by putting your hand under the pin surface. But in this case, your hands are not actually touching the display at all, but making motions in front of a computer screen in another room or even another country. Watch a video demonstrating inForm.

Follmer calls inForm a “prototyping work bench” for both testing new ways of interacting with intangible data physically as well as exploring our growing device ecosystem. The phones, computers, and furniture of the not-too-distant future will be able to communicate with us and each other in ways still unimaginable, according to the team.

“As opposed to just relying on visual information and visual feedback, our interactive devices will also change their shape,” said Follmer. In other words, several years from now your phone will change shape when it rings and work with your shape-changing desk to move closer to you.

MIT’s Changing Places initiative, led by Professor Kent Larson, is already experimenting with inForm as a platform for urban planners to collaborate on building architectural models and solving urban planning challenges. Rather than building traditional wood and plastic models, planners—both remote and in-person—would be able to build and adjust models in real time, and the resulting changes would be instantaneously reflected in the underlying digital model. Economic and environmental cost and time-savings abound: collaborators can work together without traveling, and users can make physical models without using actual materials.

Photo: Tangible Media Group

Photo: Tangible Media Group

The team is also exploring inForm’s potential impact on the healthcare industry and other areas where volumetric data is used. inFORM could quickly browse CT scans not only layer by layer but also through non-planar cross sections to help visualize three-dimensional data more efficiently. Fields that use GIS, geological, or seismic data could benefit from the display’s ability to translate two-dimensional data into its true three-dimensional form, resulting in faster decision making.

Leithinger and Follmer envision inForm as making computer gaming three dimensional and becoming a go-to tool for teachers to transform difficult mathematical concepts into more understandable and fun lessons.

Now that’s touching.

MIT students Pat Capulong, Alyx Daly, Akimitsu Hogge, Jason Moran, Alex Olwal, Jifei Ou, Philip Schoessler, Cheteeri Smith, Tony Tang, Basheer Tome, Ryan Wistort SM ’10, and Guangtao Zhang also served on the inForm team. 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ASHISH GUPTA November 24, 2014 at 2:58 am

you guys have started a really great project!
I beleive that inform is going to shape future.
Inform is unique, incredible, astonishing, …
It can be a little more great, if I can join the
your project in any way.
My name is Ashish Gupta & I am 1st year
mechanical engineering student. I will be
greatly honoured, if you let me to be a part
inform.Please reply if you think the same.

Reply

ASHISH GUPTA November 24, 2014 at 3:06 am

you guys have started a really great project!
I beleive that inform is going to shape future.
Inform is unique, incredible, astonishing, …
It can be a little more great, if I can join the
your project in any way.
My name is Ashish Gupta & I am 1st year
mechanical engineering student. I will be
greatly honoured, if you let me to be a part
of inform please reply at ashishdweep@gmail.com
if you think the same.

Reply

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