Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed a rather remarkable device known as ZeroN — a "tangible interface element" that can levitate and move within a three-dimensional space. Created by research assistant Jinha Lee and Rehmi Post of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, ZeroN can be manipulated by both humans and computers. Once a user places the ball-like magnet within the simulation space, he or she can digitally program its movements, or physically guide it themselves. Because the device can "remember" its trajectory, any gesture-controlled paths can be played back indefinitely.
To do this, Lee and Post created a magnetic control system that can levitate the ZeroN, along with an optical tracking and display setup that projects images onto the floating object. Lee says his creation offers a variety of practical applications, including enhanced simulations of planetary movements, but emphasizes that there's a larger symbolism behind his work. "ZeroN," he writes, "is about liberating materials from the constraints of space and time by blending the physical and digital world." For a more detailed explanation of the physics behind ZeroN, be sure to read Lee and Post's paper.