While teleconferencing and telepresence robots kinda let people be in two places at once, here’s a display that makes matters a bit more palpable.

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Developed by MIT’s Tangible Media Group, the inFORM is a dynamic shape-shifting interface that converts 3-D data into real-time physical representations. Think of it as videoconferencing combined with one of those Pinscreen toys you likely played around with at the Sharper Image.

On one end, the system includes a Kinect sensor that scans bodily movements. On the other end, those motions are recreated on a tabletop grid of computer-linked “pixels.” Actually, those pixels are 900 motorized polystyrene pins — controlled by actuators underneath the surface — that move up and down, with a range of four inches.

The video below shows how InForm can be used to cradle a ball or flashlight and interact with other physical objects. The video also illustrates how the interface could be used to display charts, 3-D models and various mathematical equations.

InFORM may be in its crude, early stages of development, but a few seconds into the demo video and it’s easy to see the limitless potential of applications, especially if the pixel “resolution” is increased. Education, architecture, city planning, games, 3-D prototyping, teleconferencing, surgical simulations, map making all stand to benefit from this device.

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“Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance,” writes the Tangible Media Group. “inFORM is a step toward our vision of Radical Atoms,” a future goal of creating “human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it.”

via CNET

Credit: MIT Tangible Media Group