MIT Media Lab Creates a Digital Interface That Reaches Into the Real World

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(Courtesy Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab)

(Courtesy Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab)

Do you dream of a world in which your touch-screen could touch back? Where you can shape digital models with your hands, physically reach out to friends hundreds of miles away, and once again tangibly interact with the people and objects around you?

The Tangible Media Group at MIT’s Media Lab has begun to probe this future of 3D interactive interfaces with their latest creation: inFORM. Functioning similarly to the metal pinscreen toy, inFORM combines a state-of-the-art table-mounted “screen” of 900 movable “pixels,” a hacked Microsoft Kinect, projector, and nearby computer to transmit palpable content back-and-forth between the digital and physical realms.

Created by Daniel Leithinger, Sean Follmer, Alex Olwai, Akimitsue Hogge and Hiroshi Ishii, the breakthrough project allows for real-time user interaction with material objects and physicalized digital data, offering a glimpse into the exciting world of user interfaces that lie beyond the depthless, black touch-screens and skeuomorphic displays of today. As this technology progresses beyond inFORM’s simple 30×30 display, one could imagine a wealth of emerging applications, from remote medical operations to malleable, tactile architectural renderings, that may effectively unhinge the divide between virtual and corporeal space.

(Courtesy Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab)

(Courtesy Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab)

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