FUTURE OF TRANSFORMABILITY
Today’s digital objects and systems are layered with functionality, which presents a new challenge for designers:
how can forms subscribe to multiple functionality while
maintaining a simplicity in user interaction that clearly
describes their functionality? In current products, multi-functionality is usually maintained at the expense of
ergonomics or ease of use. Kinetic programmability in
interface design may offer a method to address this, in the
form of physical transformability. A kinetic surface or skin,
or a transformable internal structure can be linked to computational data sensed from the object’s use (gestural or
positional controls) or the surrounding environment and
the physical form of the object changes in response, making objects physically adaptable to their function or context. No longer does form follow function, form becomes
function. While the current state of shape-changing objects
may be relegated to the science fiction of Transformers,
advances in shape memory materials and nanotechnology
are bringing cutting-edge experiments to life.
mation communication can be found in haptic user
interfaces: devices that allow users to feel information
through tactile or kinesthetic sensations. This is can be
achieved by applying forces that restrict user finger,
hand, and limb movement, such as in force-feedback
interfaces, or by mechanically stimulating user skin in
tactile user interfaces. Haptic interfaces have been
extensively investigated in virtual reality and telepresence applications, to allow users to feel objects properties, such as resistance, weight, and surface texture.
Recently, haptic interfaces have been used in desktop
and mobile interfaces, allowing users, for example, to
feel information on a touch screen with their fingers.
Although haptic user interfaces have a long history,
past research has been primarily focused on the
specifics of producing and understanding haptic sensations. In KOIs we take a much broader approach
that looks to explore the use of kinetic motion on multiple perceptual levels, including haptics.
Actuation as Embodiment of Gesture. An emerging class of KOIs record motion and gestures directly
from the human body and replay them creating a
sense of a living organicism. For example, Topobo
[ 11] is a 3D constructive assembly with kinetic memory, the ability to record and play back physical
motion in 3D space (see Figure 2b). By snapping
together a combination of static and motorized components, people can quickly assemble dynamic biomorphic forms like animals and skeletons. These
constructions can be animated by physically pushing,
pulling, and twisting parts of the assembly. Topobo
components can record and play back their individual
motions, creating complex motion behavior in the
overall structure of a creation. Importantly, the
kinetic recording occurs in the same physical space as
it plays back: the user “teaches” an object how to
move by physically manipulating the object itself.
This provides an elegant and straightforward method
for motion authoring in future kinetic interactions.
Actuation as Form Generation. Perhaps one of the
most inspiring categories of kinetic interfaces is that
of devices and displays that can dynamically change
their physical form to display data or in response to
user input. Such displays have been often referred to
as shape-shifting devices. One approach in designing
such self-deformable displays is creating kinetic relief-like structures either on the scale of table-top device,
such as in Feelex [ 5] and Lumen [ 9] (see Figure 3a) or
on the scale of the entire buildings, such as in Mark
Goulthorpe’s Aegis Hyposurface. An alternative
approach is illustrated by The Source installation [ 3]
that allows direct creation of low-resolution 3D
shapes hanging in space. It consists of 729 balls suspended on metal cables forming a 9x9x9 spatial grid,
where each ball is a “pixel” (see Figure 3b). By moving on the cables, the balls can form letters and
images floating in space.
Shape displays explore the possibilities for how
physical transformability can embody the malleability
so valued in the digital realm (see the sidebar here).
They communicate information by manipulating 3D
physical shapes in real time that can be either seen or
felt by hand. The information can be communicated
not only by creating a physical shape but by modifying or rearranging existing shapes, such as in case of
claytronics robots (self-reconfigurable robots), under
development at Carnegie Mellon University [ 2].
TOWARD A DESIGN LANGUAGE FOR KINETIC
The preceding examples of Kinetic Organic Interfaces have demonstrated a variety of methods to
incorporate kinetic behavior as a valuable strategy in
interface design. However, they have barely
scratched the surface of the possibilities we see available in this relatively untapped arena. As designers
and HCI scientists begin to explore the language of
motion more fully, we now discuss some of the
salient design parameters and research questions to
consider when utilizing kinetic motion in interaction design.
Form and Materiality. In order to recognize and
comprehend motion, it must be embodied in a material form. Hence, a crucial and little-understood
design parameter is how properties of materials and