inForm, the amazing 3D Kinect table, lets you touch remotely

This prototype machine lets you interact with real-world objects through the Internet, via an Xbox Kinect sensor, a projector and a table of moving pins.

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Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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It's Friday afternoon, so here's something completely amazing that will probably never really happen. It's a prototype machine that lets you interact with real-world objects through the Internet, using an Xbox Kinect sensor, a projector and a custom-built table of moving pins.

inForm is a project from the prestigious MIT university's Tangible Media Group, a hothouse of physical-digital interaction. "inFORM is a dynamic shape display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way," according to the project's website. "inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface."

You really have to see it in action to get a full sense of the thing's potential. Fortunately, there's a cool video:

And that's with an incredibly 'low-res' 30x30 pins. Imagine if it was Full HD, or the size of a dinner table. It could show moving, tactile faces, or models of buildings, or let you play real mini golf.

I'm sure smarter people than me could come up with something, you know, useful too. In fact, they already have. "inFORM would allow 3D modelers and designers to prototype their 3D designs physically without 3D printing (at a low resolution)," the project's site says. "Cross sections through volumetric data such as medical imaging CT scans can be viewed in 3D physically and interacted with."

Here's a pic of the gubbins you don't see under the table -- the actuators and linkages that move the pins so precisely.

Kinect, the sensor that lets you control games by waving your arms and talking, has been used for all sorts of non-gaming applications, including 3D video capture, multi-touch photo manipulation, simulating vertigo and, er, becoming the Wolverine.

If you have something just as cool up your sleeve, you can apply to MIT here. "Successful applicants possess varied technical and design skills in computer programming, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, as well as interaction/product/architectural design," MIT says.

What other uses of Kinect have you seen? Wave your arms in the air like you just don't care in the comments, or on our virtually tactile Facebook page.

Thanks to Duncan Geere for pointing this out -- you should check out his awesome new site Looking Up, for all things atmospheric and space-related.