Apr. 28 - Taiwanese researchers have developed technology that brings a new level of physical interaction to the touch screen experience. Using magnets, the scientists are able to manipulate digital images on a computer screen, opening new possibilities for virtual therapy, gaming and educational programming. Tara Cleary reports.
Liang Rong-hao of National Taiwan University, is demonstrating his new magnetic building blocks. They're called GaussBricks and they're designed to bring a new layer of interaction to the touch screen experience. Individual pieces can be formed into all sorts of shapes and then placed on a modified computer screen, which mirrors the 3D object's movements using a software progamme. Liang hopes Gaussbricks can offer a more tangible and satisfying way for users to interact with computers. SOUNDBITE: LIANG RONG-HAO, PH.D. STUDENT, NATIONAL TAIWAN UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND MULTIMEDIA LABORATORY, SAYING (Mandarin): "Tablet computers have become an important platform for education, games, and even physiotherapy. For these uses, we can consider overcoming the normal flat mode of interaction, and offer an even more substantial touch-based form of interaction." The system operates through sensors placed in a grid behind a computer screen. The sensors track the magnetic field surrounding each brick while an algorithm reads and converts that information into a digital image. Liangs says one obvious application for his technology is children's games - the 3D brick shapes can turn into digital drawings or make objects which interact with video games, like a real paddle that deflects graphic balls in a game of Pong. They can even achieve the otherwise impossible task of getting a cat to follow instuctions. SOUNDBITE: LIANG RONG-HAO, PH.D. STUDENT, NATIONAL TAIWAN UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND MULTIMEDIA LABORATORY, SAYING (Mandarin): "We know that the toy market is really huge, and the sales of big-screen portable devices, like tablets and large-screen cell phones, are reaching new heights each year. Our technology can give these markets an important boost." Liang and his colleagues are also developing motorized joints ... And while Liang is well aware of the technology's money-making potential, he's making it open source, so its impact outside the lab can be felt sooner and on a bigger scale.