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Malleable Maps, Artistic Robots and Bubble Interfaces

An event showcases the intersection of design and technology.

The Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI ‘10) conference was held in Cambridge, MA, this week. Technologists and designers from around the world gathered to demonstrate projects exploring the blurring of physical and digital user interfaces. Here are some of the most interesting projects from the conference.

A Physically Responsive Map

This tabletop display shows 3-D shapes on a moving, flexible surface. The display changes shape in response to users’ touch; for example, a map was projected onto miniature mountain ranges, and an image of the brain was contorted to reflect its shape.

“You could have an image of the body and dig into it and feel the heart beating,” says MIT research assistant Daniel Leithinger, one of the creators of the project.

Interactive Art Cobots

Christian Cerrito, a graduate student at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, is developing interactive art displays with collaborative robots called cobots. One of his cobots draws yellow circles until it receives an audio sound (someone clapping or shouting, for example), and then it draws a dashed line. Another changes its designs in response to light and shadow. In the future, Cerrito says he would like to use bigger robots in a public space for an interactive art exhibit.

A Tangible, Digital Jukebox

Researchers at the Music Technology Group of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain are using this project to explore the importance of physical objects associated to music–vinyl or CDs, for example. Their tabletop display consists of an infrared camera and projector beneath a sheet of Plexiglas. Small pieces of paper with dots underneath are traced by the camera below the glass. A user can use a piece of paper as a playlist.

An Augmented Reality Pattern Table

With this multiuser, augmented reality table, users can experiment with digital and physical patterns and shapes. A projector and infrared camera beneath the table lets a user “pick up” an image or video clip with plastic tiles and remix them to make new patterns. Arranging these augmented geometric tiles could give children a fun and interactive tool to learn about mathematical shapes, according to MIT graduate student Sean Follmer.

A Soap Bubble Display

This soap bubble display was designed by Axel Sylvester from the University of Hamburg and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

The machine spits bubbles onto a soapy surface; below, a camera tracks the bubbles, which a user can move by blowing or gently dragging a finger. Moving the bubbles lets the user control lights, or images projected onto them. “We use it to think about the materiality of tangible [objects],” says Sylvester.

Videos by Kristina Grifantini, edited by Brittany Sauser

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