MIT has invented and shown off a "Dynamic Shape Display," which looks prime to be the next step of a touch interface by allowing you to reach out and touch someone (or something). Called inFORM, this display can physically change shape to render 3D content, such as someone reaching through a screen, through the use of a large surface that sits on a series of pins, actuators and linkages.
Using a Kinect sensor, inFORM accurately maps the position of 3D objects, sending the data to a table full of shapeshifting pins to replicate. As demonstrated by MIT, this can even be used remotely over a video conference, showing an amazing-yet-terrifying next step to the technology of video calling.
The video released shows a projector mounted over the surface, giving the shapeshifting pins different colours to highlight depth. Different examples are shown including moving a ball, displaying 3D charts, mirroring the page turns of a book and a rather novel way of your table notifying you about a phonecall.
All fine and good, but what are the actual uses beyond being a pretty innovative Skype gimmick? MIT says it's exploring "a number of application domains," in such areas as mapping terrain and visualising CT scans in 3D.
However, this is simply the first step on a long path to what they're calling Radical Atoms. They believe this to be the future of interactivity, and it has taken them over a decade to get here since first conceptualisation. The idea is pretty simple, a world in which "all digital information has physical manifestation." To take what the Graphical User Interface (GUI), a form of computer interaction that has not really moved on since inception, and begin to chance that into a tactile user interface (TUI).
It's an interesting concept, that is shown rather brilliantly here.