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MIT's Kinetic Tabletop Is A Huge Step Towards Retail Shape-Shifting Furniture

"Transform" by MIT's Tangible Media Group makes a touchscreen table look elementary.

by TCP Staff
11 April 2014, 3:50pm

Having recently visited a charming IKEA warehouse in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, I can assure you that most retail furniture remains primarily low-tech. Outside of the affordable-but-janky Swedish products, designers have begun to experiment with touchscreen-enabled creations, such as a smart table and a desk that encourages you to work (and we're not even getting into the "Internet Of Things")

MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group goes beyond the touchscreen with Transform, a three-dimensional interface that reacts to movement and emotion. Over a thousand motors are attached to a computer, which control small clustered blocks that move up and down, creating ripples, waves, and Escher-esque ball games within, say, a table or couch fabric. Led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii, Daniel Leithinger, Sean Follmer, Amit Zoran and Philipp Schoessler debuted this technology as part of Lexus Design Amazing in Milan where the theme was, fittingly, ‘Amazing in Motion.’

Transform could have a multitude of applications–the blocks could make a temporary fruit bowl, or track kids’ chores bar-graph style. A future iteration might even serve as a table with a built-in notepad. Fast Company also notes Transform’s meditative qualities as it uses form and motion to create a “geometric lullaby” to sooth people in the room (next-level cribs come to mind). In a design-savvy household, maybe this tech could be implemented as simply a piece of sleek kinetic art. 

Tangible Media Group wants to explore the interplay of static and dynamic in order to make one unified design, and the result is beautiful and looks (maybe surprisingly) natural—it's highly technical, but not in-your-face about it. As the demand for seamless smart furniture continues to rise, it will be interesting to see how Transform evolves. It won’t break down to a box with a basic pictorial instruction manual, but we look forward to a world where our couches and tables are tech integrated, but aren't a total B-line from something we'd find at IKEA. 


TRANSFORM @ MIT Media Lab on March 22, 2014 from Tangible Media Group on Vimeo.

h/t FastCo Design