New LEGO-like magnetic bricks could soon bring a third dimension to the otherwise 2-D world of tablet interaction. They're called GaussBricks and they allow users to make interactive shapes that bring digital drawings, animations and games to life.
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Created by Rong-Hao Liang from from the National Taiwan University in Taipei, GaussBricks stack and lock together and when placed directly on a tablet's screen influence animations on the display. A sensor grid on the back of the tablet tracks the bricks' magnetic fields and algorithms use the data to reproduce the shape of the bricks onscreen, creating interactive digital forms. "It's like an X-ray camera that can see through the tablet, detecting magnets on or above the display," Liang told New Scientist.
Some of the blocks have two joint styles, allowing them to bend freely or lock into adjoining pieces. Other bricks include motorized joints and conductive coatings for more sophisticated, mechanical creations that respond like touchscreens. "We created a virtual pet where caressing the surface of the cat changes its facial expression," said Liang.
Incorporating physical objects into tablet interaction, Liang says, is more akin to how we live in the physical world. Therefore, GaussBricks could make educational programs, virtual therapy and games more effective. Liang and his colleagues are already working on tablet versions of popular board games that integrate the bricks with augmented reality. As popular as tablets have become with young children, I imagine adding anything that makes interaction more tactile would be quite marketable. Especially if the "bricks" could be streamlined into more recognizable shapes, such as rocket ships and dinosaurs for example. However, Liang's GaussBits are already aware of that.
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"We are trying to make the project open source," said Liang. "We hope that other engineers and designers will come up with new uses for the technology to bring it beyond the lab and make a real impact."
Check out he following video of GaussBricks in action.