Futuristic Touchscreen is as Moldable as Clay
One of ClayricSurface's creators molds and paints the interactive surface.
CREDIT: Screenshot from "ClayricSurface @LavalVirtual12" by gregoirecliquet on Vimeo
What appears to be the world's most high-tech Play-Doh is actually a model for futuristic computer screens, according to its creator's website. Researchers at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo developed a moldable interactive surface that varies in stiffness. At a medium stiffness, the user can squish and pat the surface into a shape, such as a star. Turning the stiffness to its highest setting will freeze the star so the user can color it, then dragging the control bar to the lowest stiffness will melt the star away. The surface is supposed to be a step toward flexible computer displays with customizable flexibility, Toshiki Sato, one of the surface's creators, wrote on his website. He and his collaborators won an Industrial Design and Simulation award for their work on March 29 at Laval Virtual, a virtual reality conference held in France.
The surface, called ClaytricSurface, is actually a box filled with polystyrene beads, covered with fabric, like a sandbox with a sheet covering the sand. Users can mold and pack the fabric-covered beads, just as if they were playing in a sandbox. Unlike a sandbox, however, a sliding bar on the right side lets them adjust the stiffness of the packed beads at the touch of a finger.
A depth camera above the setup senses when the user changes the stiffness setting and communicates to a computer, which controls a vacuum pump. ClayticSurface actually varies its stiffness by varying the density of particles inside, so the vacuum pump adds or takes away beads as needed.
Sato also created molds equipped with their own small vacuum pumps that users can put on the surface. The small vacuum pump sucks up the surface to fill in the mold — the opposite of how the usual sandcastle or Jell-O molds get filled.
Once users have created their molded masterpiece, they can color it with their fingers. A projector above the depth camera beams down colors along the top of the surface. Users touch a finger to the color they want, then touch anywhere on the surface to "fingerpaint" it.
Perhaps far in the future, touch screens won't just take taps and swipes, but actual molded 3D shapes as well.
Learn more about how ClaytricSurface works with the researcher's YouTube video: