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InForm: MIT technology makes it possible to 'be' two places at once

November 14, 2013 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Tim Hornyak / CNET

It's still impossible to be in two places at once, unless you've got one of these gadgets lying around.

The InForm is a dynamic shape display from MIT's Tangible Media Group. It turns 3D data into crude, physical representations in real time.

Inform MIT

Using a Kinect motion sensor, it can scan bodily movements and recreate them on a table of physical "pixels," allowing you to manipulate objects on the other end. The pixels on the InForm table are actually a grid of 900 motorized, polystyrene pins that can extend about 4 inches from the surface, according to an MIT paper (PDF) for the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction.


The grid is powered by an elaborate system of computer-controlled linkages and actuators under the table. Meanwhile, an overhead Kinect and projector deliver data on user motion into the system while casting visual feedback onto the table. The mind-bending video at the end of this article shows how a user can cradle a ball or flashlight and interact with 3D models.

The moving pixels also can display bar charts, 3D data, and other mathematical projections.

As an interface and display, InForm has potential applications ranging from education, 3D prototyping, and surgical simulations to urban planning, architecture, and map making.

Inform MIT

Of course, there's also the ability to create a "telepresence" effect, or projecting your presence remotely through video or through hardware representation, such as a telepresence robot.

Inform MIT

"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," according to the MIT research group, led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii. The technology seems to have evolved from an MIT project titled Recompose.

The group sees InForm as progress toward its Radical Atoms goal, which is to develop interactive materials that can dynamically change shape like pixels on a screen.

Inform MIT

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