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This Display Lets You Touch and Move Physical Objects Without Actually Being There

Published: November 13, 2013
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A team of engineers at MIT have invented a tactical display that translates motion into physical reality. In other words, it lets users touch and move a 3D object from behind a screen, even from the other side of the world.

The concept is called inFORM, and the team just released a video of it in action. It basically looks like magic. The display itself is a surface area made up of many of digitized pins. From behind the screen—called a "Dynamic Shape Display"—and with the help a hacked Kinect camera, the user's hand gestures can create and manipulate 3D objects as if they were really touching them. It’s a physical manifestation of digital information.

Remember that sweet toy we all had in the 90s where you press your hand against a bunch of little pins and it makes the shape of a hand? It's just like that, only the 21st century version.

At one point in the video, the guy testing the display actually picks up and turns on a flashlight. And since it works remotely, you could play with a prototype of a 3D object that's sitting on a desk in New York from your hotel room in Tokyo.

The idea is to create a virtual world in which we don't lose touch, so to speak, with our natural human need for tactile interaction. MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group believes that the future of computers will pivot away from today’s graphical user interfaces to tactical user interfaces, TUIs, like this one.

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