MIT Media Lab’s morphing table has Atmel under the hood


Tangible Media Group has created a shapeshifting display that lets users interact with digital information in a tangible way. 


As previously shared on Bits & Pieces, MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group has devised a morphing table with several ATmega2560 MCUs under the hood. The installation was recently exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, and can be seen in action below!

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inFORM is described its creators as a dynamic shape display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. In order to make that a reality, the table is equipped with 900 individually actuated white polystyrene pins that make up the surface in an array of 30 x 30 pixels. The interactive piece can display 3D information in real-time and in a more accurate and interactive manner compared to the flat rendering often created by computer user interface.

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This was all accomplished by tasking a Kinect sensor to capture 3D data. This information was then processed with a computer and relayed over to a display, enabling the system to remotely manipulate a physical ball. Aside from being able to produce a controlled physical environment for the ball, the pins are able to detect touch, pressing down and pulling.

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An overhead projector provides visual guidance of the system, with each pin capable of actuating 100mm and exerting a force of up to 1.08 Newtons each. Actuation is achieved via push-pull rods that are utilized to maximize the dense pin arrangement — making the display independent of the size of the actuators. The table is driven by 150 ATmega2560 based Arduino PCBs arranged in 15 rows of vertical panels, each with 5×2 boards. The boards then communicate with a PC over five RS485 buses bridged to USB. Meanwhile, graphics are rendered using OpenGL and openFrameworks software.

“One area we are working on is Geospatial data, such as maps, GIS, terrain models and architectural models. Urban planners and architects can view 3D designs physically and better understand, share and discuss their designs,” the team writes. “Cross sections through Volumetric Data such as medical imaging CT scans can be viewed in 3D physically and interacted with. We would like to explore medical or surgical simulations. We are also very intrigued by the possibilities of remotely manipulating objects on the table.”

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Its creators are hoping to spark several collaborations with everyone from urban planners and architects, to designers and modelers, to doctors and surgeons. The display could be used as an alternative to 3D printing low-resolution prototypes as well as rendering 3D data — ranging from construction plans and CT scans — that a user will be able to interact with by physically molding the pins.

Interested? A detailed paper of the project by can be found here.

2 thoughts on “MIT Media Lab’s morphing table has Atmel under the hood

  1. Pingback: Here are some unbelievable projects to help celebrate Arduino Day | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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