Saturday, March 5, 2016

Interaction through a computer screen

inFORM Shape Display
Recently a group of my students were working on projects about recent innovations in various fields. In looking for information, we came across a short news item from Brainiac, described as the "daily blog of the (Boston) Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, design, and more."

This article was MIT Makes it Possible to Reach Through Your Computer Screen, and the accompanying video was not only fascinating, but provided a lively discussion.


The article is fairly short (224 words) and written in a simple, conversational style. In any case, it has some useful collocations with verbs. For example:
  • reach through
  • get involved
  • physically interact with
  • track hand movements
  • dissimilar to
  • emerge from
  • model (their) work
  • come out of

The video (3:41) shows how the interaction works. A man sits in front of a computer screen and manipulates various objects on the other side of the screen. There is no talking, so it is easy to follow. There is, however, rather annoying music - but this can be turned off.

Students can create their own explanations of what is happening as or after they watch the video. More advanced students can transform the explanation for different audiences (e.g., technical, non-technical, pupils, customers, advertisement, etc.).

There is a link to the original source - an article from the Tangible Media Group at MIT's Media Lab (which also has the video). The title is "inFORM - Interacting with a Dynamic Shape Display."


This article is much more technical, but also short (254 words). It could be used to compare the language with the article from Brainiac - how the information is written in different levels of formality.

The article mentions a number of possible future uses of such technology:
  • Urban planners and architects can view 3D designs physically and better understand, share and discuss their designs.
  • 3D modelers and designers can prototype their 3D designs physically without 3D printing (at a low resolution).
  • Cross sections through volumetric data such as medical imaging CT scans can be viewed in 3D physically and interacted with.
  • Medical or surgical simulations might eventually be possible.

Students can not only discuss the implications of these developments, but can also brainstorm further ideas of their own.

Again, the language in the text offers useful collocations as well as a variety of adverbs:

  • currently exploring a number of application domains
  • working on
  • view 3D designs physically
  • understand, share, discuss (their) designs
  • collaborating with
  • prototype (their) 3D designs physically
  • Finally
  • scans can be viewed in 3D physically
  • interacted wtih
  • explore medical or surgical simulations
  • intrigued by
  • remotely manipulating objects
  • primarily focused on
  • emphasis on
  • dynamically changing
  • facilitate by providing
  • restrict by guiding
  • manipulate by actuating

All in all, this certainly looks like a fascinating development, and my students enjoyed the video and the ideas it inspired.

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