WATCH: ‘Shape-shifting’ technology lets users move things remotely

<i>This post has been updated as indicated below.</i>

MIT has come up with an amazing computer interface that, as the video above shows, allows a user to move objects from afar.

The inFORM 3-D surface, from MIT’s Tangible Media Group, is something like a Pinscreen -- where pins set into a grid pop up to reveal a shape. Fast Company explains it as a surface that “three-dimensionally changes shape.” A user could even “hold hands with a person hundreds of miles away.”

[Updated, 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11: Sean Follmer, with the Tangible group, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that “shape-changing user interfaces” are on the cusp of becoming mainstream.


“Already companies like Samsung and LG are creating flexible displays. We imagine a mobile device that can change its physical form from a flat surface to a camera grip to a game controller, to fit how the user needs to hold it.”]

PHOTOS: Holding a tomato, remotely

As noted on the MIT website, many possibilities are envisioned for inFORM -- making maps and urban design into tactile forms, creating CT scans “that can be viewed in 3-D physically and interacted with.”

“We would like to explore medical or surgical simulations,” possibly manipulating objects on the operating table remotely.

[Updated: “We think one of the most interesting applications for this technology is for 3-D design,” said Follmer, a research assistant and PhD student. “Right now designers and engineers work on 3-D models and then need to 3-D print their prototypes, which takes upward of 10 hours. With technology like inFORM, designers can touch and feel their designs instantly, albeit at a lower resolution.”

Also he said urban planners and architects could render their plans in three dimensions, “just like the paper models they use today. But these models on inFORM can update quickly and be affected by computer simulation.”]

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