Thumbles: a Touchscreen Interface Based on Little Mobile Robots

Small omnidirectional robots live on top of this screen

1 min read
Thumbles: a Touchscreen Interface Based on Little Mobile Robots
Photo: Patten Studio

Touchscreens are the physical interface of choice right now. This is fine, because touchscreens are versatile and portable, and we like them. Sometimes, however, we feel that they lack that satisfying tactile feedback we get from physical controls like buttons and knobs and joysticks.

Now an experimental interface called Thumbles wants to bring more tactile capability to the touchscreen. It features tiny little omnidirectional robots that live on top of a projected screen. By grabbing them and dragging them around as they try to drive around, you can experience a completely new type of physical interactivity.

What makes Thumbles unique is that the robots can move by themselves. They can provide force feedback, or dynamically form different kinds of physical controls, or act as virtual representations of things like molecules or mechanical structures.

The bots look like they're mostly 3D printed, and we imagine that it wouldn't be too difficult to set up something like this with little more than the robots, a webcam, a projector, and what is probably some reasonably clever software.

Thumbles is a prototype from Patten Studio, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it sounds like they'd be happy to make a system for you, if you ask nicely (and give them some money).

We're more than a little bit interested in what might happen if you were to extend this idea, except using a swarm of many many more robots that are much much smaller. Sort of a mobile smart pebble approach, which might lead to interactive interfaces that are "sculptable" out of microbots. Realistic? Maybe not. But we want one anyway.

[ Thumbles ] via [ Gizmodo ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
Horizontal
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less