MIT creates amazing UI from levitating orbs

May 18, 2012 | Source: Fast Company

ZeroN (credit: MIT Media Lab)

In The Avengers, Tony Stark manipulates objects in thin air. MIT Media Lab researchers Jinha Lee and  Rehmi Post have actually created a similar tactile user interface for manipulating real floating objects in 3D space, called the ZeroN.

It’s essentially a small field in which gravity doesn’t overcome an object. Through the efforts of finely tuned electromagnetism, a user can place a metal ball in midair as easily as they’d place something on a shelf.

The ball can be repositioned by hand or by computer, it can be animated on a path, and with the help of software, it can even serve as a virtual camera or light source in a 3-D scene (a sort of 3-D animation suite that you can touch).

Lee has hidden the real magic just above where there’s a 3-D actuator housing an electromagnet. It’s this arm that provides the perfectly tuned magnetic loop (requiring a circuit built by Rehmi Post from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms), to keep the ball stable. But to drag that ball around lateral space, the actuator actually just repositions itself, moving in tandem with object, and keeping an eye out on its position with 3-D infrared cameras (as you see in the Kinect).

“ZeroN can remember how it has been moved. Physical motions of people can be collected in this medium to preserve and play them back indefinitely. When the users move and release the ZeroN, it continues to float and starts to move along the same path. This allows a unique, tangible record of a user’s physical presence and motion which will continue to exist even after the death of the person,” Lee explains.

“With this functionality, ZeroN can be adopted in many applications: animation prototyping, physics simulation/education, and 3-D design studios, etc. Many of the control that users had to have with mouse and a screen can be tangible and more intuitive.”