For dedicated Trekkies — or Trekkers, to use the preferred nomenclature — the single coolest room on the entire U.S.S. Enterprise is the holodeck facility introduced in “Star Trek: The New Generation.” More than just a virtual reality chamber, the holodeck generates replicated physical matter on the fly, responsive to the actions of the people inside. You can handle physical objects within the holodeck, or sit on chairs, or even climb trees or go swimming.
A new initiative from the MIT Tangible Media Group, led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii, may be a first step toward holodeck technology. The TRANSFORM table, unveiled at the Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan, Italy, last month, uses 1,000 independently operating columns, or pins, to create a kind of shapeshifting piece of furniture that responds to human gesture and interaction. Check out the video below.
The TRANSFORM table employs sensors to monitor the kinetic energy of any person in the vicinity, then generates a wave motion changing the shape and surface of the table in real time.
For now, the table is just an experiment in fusing technology and design: What if furniture could anticipate your intent, and change shape or move? But according to the Tangible Media Group project page, it’s all part of the larger “Radical Atoms” vision that could eventually incorporate elements of virtual reality and nanotechnology. The goal? Material that morphs on the fly into whatever object is required.
“Radical Atoms is a vision for the future of human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it. We no longer think of designing the interface, but rather of the interface itself as material.”