Tech companies around the world are scrambling to come up with a practical tangible and haptic interface design for interacting with virtual reality objects. But, we’ve yet to see any that are clear winners — certainly nothing that seems like it could achieve the ubiquity of keyboards, mice, and touchscreens. Now researchers from Stanford University’s Shape Lab have created a new device for that purpose called shapeShift.
shapeShift resembles those pin art impression desk toys that were all the rage in the ’90s. But, unlike those completely passive toys, the shapeShift pins are individually actuated actively. There are a total of 288 thick square pins, and each can be precisely raised or lowered independently of the others. An infrared motion capture system tracks shapeShift’s position on your desktop, and software determines how that position relates to the virtual reality world.
The entire unit can be moved by the user, or it can move itself using motorized omnidirectional wheels. As shapeShift is moved around the desk, the pins move up and down to render virtual objects. The system looks cumbersome, but the researchers report that it works well. They noted a 30% reduction in path lengths during virtual navigation when using shapeShift, and a 24% decrease in task time.