Tangible interface is an area that I am interested in. Brigg Ullmer and Hiroshi Ishii’s study at the MIT Tangible Media Group focuses on this topic with the aim to expand and make shifts between the digital and the physical world seamless. Using surfaces outside of the computer screen and expanding the interface onto physical objects and surfaces in our environment. In  Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms (1997), they write,

Through grasping and manipulating these instruments, users of the past must have developed rich languages and cultures which valued haptic interaction with real physical objects. Alas, much of this richness has been lost to the rapid flood of digital technologies.

By simultaneously operating in a physical space as well as a cyberspace, the group is looking for a way to regain that connection that humans have with physical objects. They call this Tangible User Interfaces.

Thus, our vision is not about making “computers” ubiquitous per se, but rather about awakening richly-afforded physical objects, instruments, surfaces, and spaces to computational mediation, borrowing perhaps more from the physical forms of the pre-computer age than the present.

It is an amazing thing that all this was written in 1997 and still today, we mainly interact with computers and control the world around us through screens; one directional machines.

There is however, a rise in the internet of things and connected objects in the products we use today. Most of which are created for the home. Near Future Laboratory explores this idea further in their research, by creating an IKEA catalogue of the future. The catalogue features ambient media in the bedroom, smart bedsheets, reactive couches, and of course, drone gardening. They also incorporate the tangible interface on a kitchen counter that can teach you how to cook recipes of the world while you are cooking. These ideas are not far from the present and peer into the future we may be heading towards.

I often watch videos on my laptop when I’m preparing food and eating. But when I turn on the tap or the fan, the sound gets drowned out and I have to rewind the video. I could create a sound sensor to detect when sound louder than a certain level is made for a certain period of time and automatically, the video pauses and restarts when the noise is over.

Another situation is when I am Skyping with another person, I’d like to carry on doing tasks like putting the groceries away or washing the dishes, however, I would need the surfaces around me to become tangible interfaces so that I no longer need to hold the phone with me.