MIT’s Tangible Media Group Redefines the User Interface


In 1997, MIT’s Tangible Media Group presented their vision of “Tangible Bits” at the CHI Conference. There, the group proposed the concept of Tangible User Interface (TUI), rather than the current dominant paradigm of “Painted Bits” or Graphical User Interface (GUI).

The new TUI, the group explained, is based on, “Physical embodiment of digital information inform4and computation,” created to address the heightened ability to sense and manipulate the physical world that humans had evolved to posses. They explain further that, “The TUI builds upon human dexterity by embodying digital information in physical space. TUIs expand affordances of physical objects, surfaces, and spaces so they can support direct engagement with the digital world.”

The students of MIT’s Tangible Media Group have since put together some rather impressive projects, aimed at shifting the way we will interact in the future. From their impressive FocalSpace project from 2012, which mimics the eyes’ natural tendency to shift its focus onto the main subject in conversation, to their InSide Tangible User Interface which proposes a TUI system that enables inform3users to visually inspect 3D internal information without modifying its physical outer shell, the group continues to push the boundaries of interactivity.

Despite the group’s constantly growing project roster, there is one that stands out from the rest. Their 2013 endeavor, the inFORM, could perhaps eventually come to redefine the way we interact without electronics, and with other people via our electronics. Basically put, the TUI is a, “Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically,” allowing users a new level of unprecedented physical interactivity by way of digital information.

Perhaps most importantly, the inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface. Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance. In a sense, the inForm could lead the way to a new kind of tele-inform2communications, allowing people to not only talk to and see each other, but also allowing them to hold hands, physically collaborate on projects and even play a game of catch.

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Category: Technology