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Shape-shifting digital interface acts like solids and liquids

The latest research from MIT's Tangible Media Group is a physical interface that can be programmed to respond as different materials.

MIT's Tangible Media Group has been working for some time on a shape-changing interface that allows users to manipulate data and run simulations based on digital input. Following on from InForm, a dynamic display that uses a Kinect camera to simulate a the arms of a user in a different location in real time, and Transform, a bench that changes shape, is Materiable.

Like InForm and Transform, Materiable uses an array of "pixels" -- blocks operated by tiny motors to respond to touch and give haptic feedback -- that can be manipulated by the user. These pixels are programmed with physics algorithms to simulate different materials, such as sand, rubber and water. This could allow the interface to be used as a means of exploring the different properties of various materials, to prototype landscape designs, and to run complex simulations such as earthquakes and tsunamis, the team's paper suggested.