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Philips Magnetic Tiles Let You Build Any 3D Display

I've spent the morning at Philips Research Labs in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and I've seen some pretty amazing inventions that may not be far away from a shop near you. One of the coolest was these magnetic LED tiles that allow you to build any kind of 2D- or 3D-shaped display by just attaching one to the next. The results, combined with the beauty of the animated color LEDs behind the diffusing glass, are stunning. The way it works seems like magic. The display itself gets programmed by just placing an illustration under a camera, which captures the basic structure and animates it in random patterns. Since each tile is intelligent—they know each other's position at any give time—the animation spreads through the tiles seamlessly. Putting the tile together is as easy as that: just place it next to the edge you want and it will stick thanks to very powerful magnets.

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DISCUSSION

Why do they need to be magnetic? Instead of using powerful magnets to attach them to each other, just design the module to latch on to the adjacent one. The magnetics seem cool, but only there for the cool factor— not to serve any additional purpose. I imagine they are not electro-magets or a loss of power will cause the whole display to fall like a house of cards.

This could be great for video walls. No wires connecting the modules is awesome. I've worked with what seems like miles of wire bhend them and they can be REPULSIVE. But the magnetic function, although it looks ATTRACTIVE, puzzles me.