Children, new to television, want to reach through the screen to touch the people inside (and maybe expect the people inside to reach out and touch them). It's a fantasy, of course. Matter moves through screens no more than it does through black holes. That is, until the Tangible Media Group at MIT's Media Lab got involved. In a paper published last month and an accompanying video (below), a team of five engineers introduced inFORM, an interactive computer system that allows a person on one side of a screen to physically interact with the world on the other side. How? On one side of the screen, a Microsoft Kinect tracks hand movements. On the other side, a stacked system of "actuators," "linkages," and "pins," (not entirely dissimilar to those fun Pin Art boards) creates a fine-grained, physical translation of those movements, so that the user's hands actually seem to emerge from, well, it's hard to say exactly where. In the demonstration video, a user rolls a red ball around in his "hands," aims a flashlight, and turns the pages of the book. The MIT team hopes that one day inFORM could help architects, urban planners, and surgeons model their work. Meanwhile, it might be time to update what we tell our kids: No, that man can't come out of the television...at least not yet.
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