The Next Generation in Human Computer Interfaces

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For decades our options for interacting with the digital world have been limited to keyboards, mice, and joysticks. Now with a new generation of exciting new interfaces in the pipeline our interaction with the digital world will be forever changed. In this post we will look at some amazing demonstrations, mostly videos, that showcase new ways of interacting with the digital world. Enjoy!

First up we have a video of  MIT's David Merrill demonstrating a technology called Siftables at the 2009 TED conference.  Siftables are cookie-sized, computerized blocks you can stack and shuffle in your hands.  By arranging them in different configurations or tilting them at different angles you can do math, play music, spell worlds, pour virtual paint, and more.  The implications for hands on learning and manipulation of data are fantastic!  We have not seen any word on how/when this technology will be commercialized, but we hope it will be soon!

Next we have a technology for making music called Reactables.  By arranging and manipulating computerized blocks on a special table, musicians are presented with a completely new way of creating and interacting with music.  As seen in the previous video, Siftables are also capable of music composition, but reactables are unique in their singular focus on doing only music.  Whereas the siftables can perform many functions, the reactables are specialized for one task only, and in the coming years we can expect them to far outstrip the ability of Siftables when it comes to music.  Orginally created by Music Technology Group at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona Spain, Reactables have recently been spun off into a private company that is hard at work commercializing this exciting product.  For those that are really interested in this technology, there is a competing effort from Sony that may be of interest:

Kommerz from Austria brings us the mixed reality interface.  Using representative objects in the real world a person is able to manipulate objects in 3D space on a computer screen.  The possibilities for a new gaming interface look especially promising with this technology.  Check it out:

Thanks to Andreas for the above video.

This next demo from Sony has been around for many years, yet it is still very cool.  Why isn't this technology finding a commercial market after all these years?  We have no idea.

Jeff Han from NYU demonstrates the capabilities of a multitouch interface at the TED conference in 2006.  Since then he has started a company around the technology called perceptive pixel.  This technology was recently used on CNN for presidential election coverage.

Speaking of multitouch interfaces, Microsoft has a technology called Microsoft Surface that is similar to Jeff Han's technology, but in typical Microsoft fashion the company just doesn't seem to get it.  Check out first a video from Microsoft that showcases the technology, followed by a hilarious parody from sarcastic gamer that shows how misguided Microsoft's vision is:

The Khronos Projector is an interactive-art installation allowing people to explore pre-recorded movie content in an entirely new way. From the official site: "by touching the projection screen, the user is able to send parts of the image forward or backwards in time. By actually touching a deformable projection screen, shaking it or curling it, separate "islands of time" as well as "temporal waves" are created within the visible frame. This is done by interactively reshaping a two-dimensional spatio-temporal surface that "cuts" the spatio-temporal volume of data generated by a movie."

Sixthsense from MIT is a technology that we have already covered in depth previously. Check out our detailed review for more information:

The world of interactive technology is literally exploding.  There must be several technologies we have overlooked in this review.  If you know of any that we missed, please let us know in the comments and we will try to add your suggestion to this post in an update.

Discussion — 19 Responses

  • Bob March 8, 2009 on 9:12 pm

    The videos don’t work! I use linux and flash 10.

  • Antao March 8, 2009 on 9:33 pm

    Check out how kids can play with augmented-reality…

  • Martinl March 9, 2009 on 12:28 am

    Microsoft’s future vision was recently demonstrated with some new (cheesy) videos, they include various new surface type computers as well as some devices somewhat similar to Sony’s or Jeff Hans (ie Minority Report) future visions.


  • Luke March 9, 2009 on 2:18 am

    What about the OCZ Neural Interface Actuators? Those seem to be the start of what promises to be incredible human computer interface technology.

  • Fabio Varesano March 9, 2009 on 12:26 pm

    All videos works here on Linux. Firefox + Flash 10.. no problems.

  • Timothy March 9, 2009 on 5:26 pm

    The mixed reality interface is really interesting.

  • Jason Bouchard March 9, 2009 on 5:29 pm

    How about the helio display?

  • dave March 9, 2009 on 8:58 pm

    How about Augmented Reality? Here are some examples using mobile devices:

  • Saeed Jabbar March 9, 2009 on 9:02 pm

    This is a shorter version of the Microsoft video.

    It will be interesting to see how interfaces change to implement touch.

  • Yanooshray March 9, 2009 on 10:32 pm

    Although working prototype is not ready yet, you might be interested in a concept of a glancing pad – not as flashy as others but much more useful.

  • gamekynd March 10, 2009 on 4:27 am

    augmented reality? how about taking your kid to the playground. this is just crazy.

  • Nate K March 10, 2009 on 7:13 am

    Wow, I didn’t think I would see such a poorly executed article on this site. Go MIT, suck it Microsoft, and at the end of the day I am left with this feeling that I need to comment on it.

    I thought this was next generation in human computing interfaces? Where’s the voice and brain signal recognition systems? Wow, touch screens, I’ve had one of those since ’07, infact millions of people do! As for the siftables, I witnessed the demonstration and although appealing on a kindergardner level, I don’t think that schools can afford to upgrade their cinder blocks to computerized toys just yet. There will probably never be a commercial product there, but I ‘hope to see some soon’?

    I’m trying to be constructive, I like this website.

  • Bobby March 11, 2009 on 7:07 pm

    I think your comments are right on the mark. Thanks for not being bashful! Some of us are not that intrigued with new gadgets especially when it takes away from humans interacting with each other.

  • Jordazzle March 11, 2009 on 7:43 pm

    What ever happened to bump top?

  • Normouse March 12, 2009 on 10:35 pm

    I’m blown away. I bought my first micro in 1978 but it seems as they have gotten away from me a little. Fantastic videos. Thanks Kurtzweil for your influence. I can’t believe the world I live in. Super.

  • insurance lawyer April 26, 2010 on 10:23 pm

    The same can’t be said for the cooler siftables, reactables, and other mixed-media interactive devices we’ve discussed before. Of course

  • insurance lawyer April 26, 2010 on 6:23 pm

    The same can’t be said for the cooler siftables, reactables, and other mixed-media interactive devices we’ve discussed before. Of course

  • Siftables June 5, 2010 on 6:39 pm

    This is an amazing little device, i can’t wait to get a set and start using it. The possibilities are endless.. especially in a school / educational system / environment! Anyone know when the release date is for these?

  • Siftables June 5, 2010 on 10:39 pm

    This is an amazing little device, i can’t wait to get a set and start using it. The possibilities are endless.. especially in a school / educational system / environment! Anyone know when the release date is for these?