No introduction is needed. First of all, watch this video:
Ok, now we can take a deep breath and try to understand how a group of awesome people from MIT Tangible Media Group got such an awesome achievement. As we can read on their website, their goal is to “couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving physical form to digital information”. To this aim, they run a host of projects (all of them are amazing!), one of which is the inFORM. I simply copy-paste here some content of the webpage describing this device 🙂 Obviously, all rights belong to the authors and more detailed information can be found on their official website.
inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, 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.
Past research on shape displays has primarily focused on rendering content and user interface elements through shape output, with less emphasis on dynamically changing UIs. We propose utilizing shape displays in three different ways to mediate interaction: to facilitate by providing dynamic physical affordances through shape change, to restrict by guiding users with dynamic physical constraints, and to manipulate by actuating physical objects. We explore potential interaction techniques and introduce Dynamic Physical Affordances and Constraints with our inFORM system, built on top of a state-of-the-art shape display, which provides for variable stiffness rendering and real-time user input through direct touch and tangible interaction. A set of example applications demonstrates how dynamic affordances, constraints and object actuation can create novel interaction possibilities.
There is also a paper about that! 🙂