MIT's inFORM UI remotely manipulates physical reality via Kinect

MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group has invented a tangible interface that acts like a remote pinscreen. That is, it transfers gestures captured by a hacked Kinect to a platform of motorized pins, thus translating motion to physical reality. The device is called inFORM, and the researchers involved in the project want it to inform a wider push towards computer interfaces that embrace the deep human need for tactile engagement with reality.

"As humans," said Sean Follmer, one of the MIT researchers behind inFORM, "we have evolved to interact physically with our environments, but in the 21st century, we're missing out on all of this tactile sensation that is meant to guide us, limit us, and make us feel more connected. In the transition to purely digital interfaces, something profound has been lost."

The device is shown in a TMG informational video moving its many square-headed pins up and down to create shapes in accordance with the hand gestures made in front of a remotely patched-in Kinect. The effect is analogous to what happens on your typical shopping-mall-issue pinscreen when you press your palm to the underside: you get a three-dimensional handprint. In the case of inFORM, you get a much more dynamic and free-flowing rendering of your gestures. Watch and be mesmerized:

The purpose of inventing something like the inFORM is to explore the ways in which human beings can interact with computers, a field of study known as "user interface" or simply UI. We are already starting to see the very beginnings of a wider shift away from purely digital UI to more tangible interfaces–as in the case of Play-i, the little robots that teach kids to program by physically acting out the commands, or TapTap, the Kickstarter wristband that lets you "tap-tap" your wristband so that your super-extra-special friend feels a gentle vibration through their own paired wristband wherever they may be.

Whether a tangible computer interface can ever fully replace direct, unmitigated, middle-man-free physical engagement with the world around us is completely up for philosophical debate, which we encourage our philosopher-technophile readers to engage in in the comments below right now. What is certain, however, is that inFORM is objectively awesome.

SOURCE: Fast Company