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Transform furniture with a wave of the hand

Designers at MIT's Tangible Media Group demonstrate the Transform, a bench with a 3D interface that can change its physical shape on command.

Lexus Design Amazing

What if you could have a table that turned into a chair or even a bed according to your needs, controlled with just a nod of the head or wave of the hand? We're probably a long way away from that, but MIT's Tangible Media Group -- an arm of the US university that's dedicated to exploring "the Tangible Bits vision to seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving physical form to digital information" -- has set the bar for a transforming, robotic piece of furniture.

Called the Transform, it debuted at the Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan.

"Usually furniture is a static object, but we wanted to give it some kind of motion, some life form," MS candidate Philipp Schoessler said in a "closer look" video, embedded below. "We explored the interplay between static and dynamic with these pins that react to you, but can also display content."

MIT Tangible Media Group

"Transform is about the simplicity of motion emerging from the complexity of the computational world," added Ph.D. candidate Sean Follmer in the video.

The Transform takes the shape of a table, with three motion panels separated by flat, static benchtop. The motion panels are made up of more than 1,000 small, pixel-like blocks, operated by over 100 motors, which can be seen through the front of the bench. The Transform grew out of a project called InForm (video), which used a Kinect camera to sense motion. When the user waves a hand over the panels of the Transform, the pixels react, rising and falling.

They can also be programmed to move in dynamic shapes -- gently pulsing beats, rolling waves, a series of "bowls" that roll balls around, precisely geometric machine forms.

Watching them provides a zen sort of experience, with the viewer being lulled by the repeating motion and the rise and fall of the pins -- a deliberate design choice to showcase the mechanical aspects of the device.

The Transform won't be making it to homes anytime soon; for a start, the team has no plans to make a commercial version of the bench, and then there's the practicality of installing a machine with so many moving parts in homes; but it certainly brings to mind some interesting possibilities.

You can see the table/bench in action and a behind-the-scenes video below.

(Source: Crave Australia via MIT Media Lab Tangible Media)