Obake Multi-touch 2.5D Elastic Screen

Sometimes in technology and engineering research, it’s not immediately obvious to outside observers where researchers are going with an idea.

Dhairya Dand and Rob Hemsley are MIT Media Lab researchers working on an idea they call Obake (o-baa-keh). It’s a 2.5D elastic display screen that lets users tug and probe to interact with graphics.

The Obake display is shape changing with the help of actuators, depth cameras, projector and a silicone screen. The hardware is built with wood, linear actuators, liquid rubber casted into a screen, a Microsoft Kinect, and a projector. The software is written in openFrameworks.

They call it 2.5D because the material is 3D when a user interacts with it by tugging or probing, but the display is 2D. Depth cameras measure the tugging and probing to adjust the projected image appropriately.

According to a profile on ExtremeTech, Dand is trying to solve the problem of interacting with 3D interactive displays:

“Dand says that the reason why displays haven’t been able to escape the realm of 2D is due to the standard mouse-and-GUI combination to which we’re all so accustomed. Due to the nature of a mouse and the way it interacts with what we see on a screen, the setup can’t quite become 3D in any coherent manner.”

ExtremeTech writer James Plafke sees implications for something like we see in movies:

“Of course, what we’re all thinking this surface can help us achieve is the mythical 3D topography map seen in so many forms of science fiction: the movie’s heroes standing around a table, planning an attack, when all of a sudden a physical 3D map of a cityscape rises from the center of the table. The above video even shows a user editing a map’s topography by drawing rivers and creating mountains.”

Dand thinks this research could result in shapeshifting devices like toasters that expand to support larger sized bread and then squeezed back it’s smaller shape after toasting.

When I watch the video (embedded below), I’m not really sure about that toaster idea. Maybe using it for 3D mapping makes some sense. When I watch the video, the only thing I can imagine the technology being used for, with all that tugging and probing, is kind of naughty.