Zooids — Swarm User Interface

What the heck is a Zooid? A Zooid is a small cylindrical robot, measuring 26 mm in diameter and 21 mm in height, weighting about 12g. Each robot is powered by a 100 mAh LiPo battery and uses motor driven wheels — and these things are snappy at a top speed of about 0.5m/s. Each Zooid is able to know if you touched it via capacitive touch sensing. It has wireless capabilities through an NRF24L01+ chip. So, what’s it for, you wonder…

zooids-swarm-robotics-thumbOne robot might not do much but the idea behind the Zooids is the introduction of swarm user interfaces, a new class of human-computer interfaces that involves multiple autonomous robots to handle both display and interaction. In a joint work between the Shape Lab at Stanford University (USA) and the Aviz team at Inria (France), researchers developed an open-source open-hardware platform for what they called “tabletop swarm interfaces”. The actual interface involves a swarm of Zooids, a radio base-station, a high-speed DLP structured light projector for optical tracking and a software framework for application development and control.

In the demonstration video we can see some examples of use of the Zooids. Could the resolution be measured as, erm, ZPI? Near the end of the demo we can see a new level of interactivity where the swarm quickly works together as a team and sort of fetch the user’s phone. Now, if they can be made to scour the house in search of our keys, that would be something…

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inFORM the Morphing Table Gets Even More Interactive

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Remember last week’s post on the inFORM, MIT’s morphing table? Well they just released a new video showing off what it can do, and it’s pretty impressive.

The new setup features two separate interfaces, and they’ve added a display  so you can see the person who is manipulating the surface. This springs to life a whole new realm of possibilities for the tactile digital experience. The inFORM also has a projector shining on the surface, which allows the objects shown from the other side to be both visually and physically seen — they use an example of opening a book and displaying its pages on the surface. To track the hand movements they use a plain old Microsoft Kinect, which works extremely well. They also show off the table as a standalone unit, an interactive table — Now all they need to do is make the pixels smaller… 

Stick around after the break to see some more awesome examples of the possibilities of this new tactile-digital interface. There are also some great clips near the end of the video showing off the complex linkage system that makes it all work.

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inFORM: MIT’s Morphing Table

Have you ever wished your dinner table could pass the salt? Advancements at MIT may soon make this a reality — although it might spill the salt everywhere. Enter the inFORM: Dynamic Physical Affordances and Constraints through Shape and Object Actuation.

While the MIT paper doesn’t go into much detail of the hardware itself, there are a few juicy tidbits that explain how it works. There are 900 individually actuated white polystyrene pins that make up the surface, in an array of 30 x 30 pixels. An overhead projector provides visual guidance of the system. Each pin can actuate 100mm, exerting a force of up to 1.08 Newtons each. To achieve the actuation, push-pull rods are utilized to maximize the dense pin arrangement as seen, making the display independent of the size of the actuators. The actuation is achieved by motorized slide potentiometers grouped in sets of 6 using custom PCBs that are driven by ATMega2560s — this allows for an excellent method of PID feedback right off the actuators themselves. There is an excellent image of the entire system on page 8 of the paper that shows both the scale and complexity of the build. Sadly it does not look like something that could be easily built at home, but hey, we’d love for someone to prove us wrong!

Stick around after the break to see this fascinating piece of technology in action. The video has been posted by a random Russian YouTube account, and we couldn’t find the original source for it — so if you can, let us know in the comments!

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