The Loh Down On Science

A computer advance takes telecommuting to a whole new level!

Is the computer mouse of the future a bed of nails?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Computer researchers at MIT have a fascinating new take on the old-fashioned pinscreen toy.  They’ve turned it into a computer interface they call “inFORM”.

Pinscreens are what they sound like.  A screen stretched over a frame.  Numerous pins poke through, creating a dense grid.

Press your hand on one side?  The imprint shows up three-dimensionally on the other.  InFORM is a tabletop version.  It’s a grid of nine-hundred small, rectangular pins.  Underneath, each pin attaches to a micro motor.  Cables connect everything to a computer. 

Users tell the computer to move the pins up or down.  Or they just manually smoosh them.  Either way, inFORM creates three-dimensional shapes:  Bar graphs. Maps.  Attach inFORM to an Xbox Kinect, and move your hands in front of the sensors.  The hand imprints show up in InFORM’s pins.

Even cooler? Two inFORM users across the world could play with shapes together, remotely!

Such remote physical interfaces could be the future of computing.

And of colonoscopies, we can only hope.  Remotely.


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