MIT is at it again with an interesting demonstration of LineFORM, a UI that could morph your wearable, give you an instant drawing template or even unwrap itself from your arm. Found on FastCompany, this cool device combines actuators you typically find in robotics with a soft fabric that you might find in a baby’s crib. Inventors from MIT’s Tangible Media Group include Ken Nakagaki, Sean Follmer and Hiroshi Ishii, and the concept is really a smart cable.
Imagine a cable attached to your computer that can bend itself into a phone-like handset when you get a Skype call. Or coil around a lightbulb and power it when you need some light. Or a cable you plug into your smartphone that then oscillates to represent data shooting back and forth. Or even a robot snake that wraps around your arm, tensing at points to help you build muscles.
The movement of this bot reminds me of the coiling arms of Dr. Octopus from Spiderman. Although those arms seem creepy, they actually are quite flexible and strong. The thought leads me to other uses for LineFORM like a harness for aircraft chairs or amusement park rides, a chin strap for helmets, a tool for hard-to-reach areas like elbow pipes or even a smart gripper for cranes. On the fashion side, with lighter weight construction this could become a scarf, adjustable bra or multiple choice sandal. Like the flexible “Cat’s Cradle” puzzle it was designed after, this bot could lead to some pretty flexible interfaces, but really the intention is to be a UI display.
“These aren’t autonomous agents, like R2-D2 or C-3P0,” Nakagaki says. “They’re just a tool to manipulate information without agency” like any other display.
Will this become the go-to for people facing physical challenges, able to shapeshift to the form needed? I hope so. I think the team at MIT has created something that computer designers will be seeking in the near future. Let’s face it, things that move are interesting. If you are curious about moving parts but have never done a mechanical project, you might want to check out our Really Simple Animatronic Tail project. It’s a great intro to mechanical engineering and fun for costumes.
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