Shape-shifting remakes interfaces
Technology Research News
Felix the Cat of cartoon fame carried a
magic bag that he transformed into anything he needed, from a car to an
airplane to a parachute. Researchers at Sony Corporation are bringing
the notion of transformability to user interface devices with a control
knob that the user can reshape to change its function.
The researchers' Haptic Chameleon is a video control knob that
a user can switch to round, rectangular and semicircle shapes that have
different functions and different force feedback effects like hard stops
or changes in resistance. The prototype knob consists of two semicircles
divided by rectangle. The user can depress one of the semicircles to change
the knob shape to a semicircle, or both semicircles to change the knob
to a rectangle.
The round shape, which moves in fine-grained increments, allows
a user to navigate a video frame-by-frame. The rectangular shape, which
has coarser increments, allows the user to navigate scene-by-scene. And
the semicircle, which symbolizes happy or sad scenes through its resemblance
to a smile or frown, allows the user to move between scenes of a certain
The combination of a tangible interface of objects whose shapes
corresponding to functions and a haptic interface that provides force
feedback allows the user to create a mental match between the shape of
the device and the function or mode of operation associated with it, said
Georg Michelitsch, a principal scientist at Sony Corporate Laboratories
Eventually devices based on the technology could change shape
to mimic real-world objects, mimic interface devices like joysticks, or
form symbols like a square that represent functions like stopping video,
according to the Michelitsch.
The researchers are initially aiming to use the device for automobile
and home entertainment controls, said Michelitsch. "Any application scenario
that requires the user to focus his or her eyes on something [other] than
a graphical user interface will benefit from... Haptic Chameleon technology,"
When people experienced with video editing tools tested the knob,
they liked the concept of combining multiple controls in one device, according
to Michelitsch. The simple video navigation application "showed that a
single, shape-changing control... can replace many traditional controls
such as buttons and dials," he said.
The researchers also tested a virtual version of the knob generated
by the Phantom virtual reality input device. The Phantom consists of three,
thimble-like finger harnesses attached to arms that sense the user's finger
positions and provide force feedback. Users manipulated a graphical representation
of a video control knob and changed its shape by squeezing the virtual
knob. The virtual device provided a better shape-changing experience than
the mechanical Haptic Chameleon knob, but lacked the realistic grasping
action required to use the mechanical device, according to Michelitsch.
The researchers are investigating several emerging materials with
an eye toward improving the shape-changing effect in real knobs. They
are looking at electro-active polymers, which are plastic or rubber materials
that change shape in the presence of electric fields or currents, and
magneto rheologic fluids, which change viscosity in the presence of magnetic
fields, said Michelitsch.
Ultimately, the researchers are aiming for a device that can be
molded as easily as clay. "We would like to be able to create Haptic Chameleon
user interface controls that the user can mold smoothly into almost any
shape you can imagine," he said.
The researchers are also aiming to use the technology for mobile
devices like cellphones and handheld computers, said Michelintsch. This
will require controls that use little power, he said.
Applications like the video controller are feasible now; more
sophisticated applications are likely to take two to five years, said
Michelitsch's research colleagues were J. Williams, M. Osen, B.
Jimenez, S. Rapp. They presented the research at the Computer Human Interaction
(CHI) 2004 conference in Vienna April 24 to 29. The research was funded
by Sony Corporation.
Timeline: Now; 2-5 years
TRN Categories: Human-Computer Interaction
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "Haptic Chameleon: A
New Concept of Shape-Changing User Interface Controls with Force Feedback,"
CHI 2004, Vienna, April 24-29, 2004
May 19/26, 2004
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