It may be true that remotely-operated machinery are old hat and have been around since the first RC cars, but the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group has added a new twist.
They've developed a new interactive surface that enables the remote operator to manipulate objects. They're calling it inForm, and while this is an idea that will probably never reach the marketplace it is nonetheless cool to see it in action.
Here's how they described it:
inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. 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.
The project page goes on to say that the team is looking at a number of potential applications, including geospatial uses like maps, medical imaging, and previewing 3d models without the hassle of 3d printing.
TBH, I don't see that this has much of a chance of seeing widespread use. While there are a lot of ways that this could be used many of the possible applications could be served nearly as well by a large LCD screen. Sure, it lacks any aspect of interactive 3d but a 30" display is bound to be cheaper and it would work well enough that the higher cost of inForm might not be worth it.
But it is a cool toy, isn't it?
And do you know what could make it better? What if this idea was combined with the morphing onscreen keyboard tech from Tactus? That would combine the best of an LCD screen with 3d interactivity, resulting in a gaming surface that would play back at you. Of course, neither tech is ready yet, but one can dream.