Two years ago, MIT's Tangible Media Lab demonstrated the inFORM project, a "dynamic shape display" that, through a series of pins and actuators, could physically change shape in response to the user interacting with it. Put simply, it was like a 3D screen that could give data a physical form. MIT has since pushed that technology further with the new Kinetic Blocks project, which uses pin "pixels" to build simple structures out of blocks.
Much like the inFORM, Kinetic Blocks works by feeding spatial information read by a Microsoft Kinect into the display, allowing it to respond to physical objects. However, where the inFORM could already manipulate objects in real time, the new project is faster and finely tuned to detect, orient, and stack blocks to make and even disassemble structures. The display can also be programmed to build structures stored in memory, or interact with special kinematic blocks that allow the pins to interact with other objects in special ways.
The natural next step for MIT's Radical Atoms concept
The inFORM was already an exciting project because of MIT's vision for so-called Radical Atoms, the promised future where all data can be interacted with in physical space. Kinetic Blocks looks like a natural progression for that idea, using physical data to build whole new things in the real world.