It’s a user interface that goes far beyond graphical interaction and clumsy touchscreens. Today’s touch-based interfaces are like a stone flint to what MIT’s Tangible Media Group is working on. Materials with almost organic haptic feedback, and surfaces that change shape to fit your needs, would undoubtedly represent the quantum leap that we have been waiting for.
The research group has presented its vision to develop a science fiction-like Tangible User Interface (TUI) back in 1997, and they have been making improvements since. Their idea is simple – as humans, our heightened ability to sense and manipulate the physical world has taken a back seat in the design of everyday technology. Pixels and screens are simply inefficient, as they don’t take advantage of our dexterity and hand-eye coordination. That can be changed.
There are hurdles to overcome on the way to materials that fully equate to digital interface, as configurable as pixels on a screen. For example, atoms are relatively rigid and will require some hacking. But concepts are ready, and their proofs are starting to emerge. You can see what Tangible Media Group has recently been up to in the newly released videos of Exoskin and Materiable: