Hiroshi Ishii from MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group recently gave a wonderful talk on his vision to make atoms 'dance' like pixels do today.
In essence, he wants to see the sophistication of a Graphical User Interface come to life in the physical world. The department has done much fascinating work over the years, though his dream remains some way away.
Tangible Bits seeks to realize seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the physical environment by giving physical form to digital information, making bits directly manipulable and perceptible. Their goal is to invent new design media for artistic expression as well as for scientific analysis, taking advantage of the richness of human senses and skills – as developed through their lifetime of interaction with the physical world – as well as the computational reflection enabled by real-time sensing and digital feedback.
Radical Atoms takes a leap beyond Tangible Bits by assuming a hypothetical generation of materials that can change form and properties dynamically, becoming as reconfigurable as pixels on a screen. Radical Atoms is the future material that can transform its' shape, conform to constraints, and inform the users of their affordances. Radical Atoms is a vision for the future of human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it.
Here is the talk:
Some of my more radical ideas fall into this territory. In trying to map physical activities with those on screen, and specifically in seeking a complete feedback loop in which on screen changes affect physical controls and vice versa, it seems quite natural that I'd end up thinking about dynamic and 'computed' moving parts. Of course, some of these projects are group efforts over a matter of years rather than individual efforts over mere months! But a great source of insipiration nonetheless.