Just five months ago, MIT's Tangible Media Group was showing off a physical interface that mimics you in real time. This week in Milan, the team unveiled the next iteration of the system that's much larger and even more sophisticated. You're going to want to click through for the videos.

If you haven't heard of the Tangible Media Group, here's a little background: Led by professor Hiroshi Ishii, the team explores how digital interfaces—basically, every UI we've experienced up until now—can be transformed by physical bits.


A big part of that mission is developing materials that can change and shift along with the user. For example, some students are working on pneumatic interfaces that react to stimulation by unrolling or retracting.

This new prototype is called Transform, and it gets even closer to that vision. As Co.Design explains today, the group describes the table as a piece furniture that's been transformed into "a dynamic machine driven by the stream of data and energy," thanks to the three shivering, jumping panels on its surface.


Those white panels are made up of more than one thousand pins, controlled by a complicated piece of software that reads your physical movements with a motion sensor. Here's how designers Daniel Leithinger, Sean Follmer, Amit Zoran, Philipp Schoessler describe the making-of:

Clearly, it's an amazing technical accomplishment. But what are the long-term implications? Well, think of Transform as one of those big wooden molecular model sets. It's a demonstration of something that, down the road, could become far smaller and more subtle, an interface that could be integrated into physical objects all around you. Your bedroom wall might ripple seamlessly from flush to shelves, your dining room table might shuffle into a workspace at the flick of your wrist. And beyond the scale of furniture, their system could be applied to just about any physical object on any scale—from phones to architecture.

The Tangible Media Group calls this idea "Radical Atoms," a future material than can shift based on computational inputs. For the TMG, it's the core of their work, a "vision for the future of human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it. We no longer think of designing the interface, but rather of the interface itself as material."

That vision is far down the road, of course. But Transform is a proof of concept, and an amazingly convincing one. If the team keeps working at this rapid pace, we may be introduced to an even more advanced prototype within a few more months. [Co.Design; Tangible Media Group]