Interactive furniture transforms with a wave of the hand

Designers at MIT's Tangible Media Lab have created a bench with a transforming 3D interface that can change its shape according to how you interact with it.

(Credit: Lexus Design Amazing)

Designers at MIT's Tangible Media Group have created a bench with a transforming 3D interface built in that can change its shape according to how you interact with it.

What if you could have a table that turned into a chair or even a bed according to your needs, with just a nod of the head or wave of the hand? We're probably a long way away, but MIT's Tangible Media Group — an arm of the university 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 Transform, it debuted at the Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan, exploring the theme of "curiosity".

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

(Credit: MIT Tangible Media Group)

"Transform is about the simplicity of motion emerging from the complexity of the computational world," PhD candidate Sean Follmer added.

Transform consists of a table, with three motion panels separated by flat, static benchtop. The motion panels consist of over 1000 small, pixel-like blocks, operated by over 100 motors, which can be seen through the front of the bench. When the user waves a hand over the panels, 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, 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.

Transform won't be making it to homes any time 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 in action and a behind-the-scenes video below.


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