Tangible user interface

Fancy user interfaces are all the rage nowadays. Did you see Bill Gates ‘jamming’ with Slash at CES? Jamming as part of a crass marketing excercise, yes, but on a Guitar Hero guitar-shaped controller – in that context a step up in usability and (more importantly) style from a mouse and keyboard.

Well, OK, maybe not style.

Anyway, it turns out that there’s exciting stuff happening in the user interface space in science, too.

Deepak at BBGM blogged a while back about a molecular dynamics simulation that used a Wii controller to allow you to interact with the atoms on screen.

Even more excitingly, though, Andrew Walkingshaw at Cambridge has hacked up a tangible user interface that allows you to put together molecules using differently shaped physical markers (each representing a different atom) on a glass table. Custom software written in <a href=‘Turns out that there’s exciting stuff happening in this space in science, too.‘>Processing tracks marker shapes and locations with a webcam, works out which molecule you’ve built and sends you to the PubChem search page to get more details. It’s awesome. I am impressed.

So, to sum up, that’s performing a chemical search by just putting real objects down on a real surface, made really cheaply. Result!


t’s a usable prototype, and building it cost me under £30. That’s kind of awesome really; playing with this kind of thing really doesn’t have to be hard or expensive any more. It doesn’t even need any really specialist kit.


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