Movie: Hiroshi Ishii on MIT Media Lab's Transform shape-shifting table

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MIT Media Lab's shape-shifting table top is "equivalent to the invention of painting"

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: computer scientist Hiroshi Ishii claims MIT Media Lab's Transform project consisting of thousands of physical, motorised "pixels" should be considered a completely new creative medium.

Transform by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group

Transform is made up of over 1,000 plastic rods attached to individual motors. When someone passes their hand over the table top, sensors detect the movement and cause the surface to ripple like a wave.

Transform by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group

"It's a completely new form of physical and digital computational material," says Ishii, who spoke to us at the Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan last month, where the project was on show. "This is equivalent to the invention of a new medium like painting, music, plastic or computer graphics."

Transform by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group

Transform was created by Daniel Leithinger and Sean Follmer of MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group, overseen by Ishii, and is part of the group's Radical Atoms project, which explores physical manifestations of digital information.

"Pixels are intangible," Ishii says. "You can only use them by being mediated through remote control, like a mouse or a touchscreen. We decided to physically embody computation and information. We're coupling physical materials with underlying computation."

Transform by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group

As well as reacting to people's movement, Transform can be programmed to represent 3D images and animations, just like a digital screen. But Ishii believes the possibilities of this new "computational material" are limitless.

"When movies were invented there was no content, no good applications," he says. "But now it has blossomed in a very interesting way. So think about Transform as a new medium with infinite possibilities."

He continues: "This is a challenge to all creatives and artists - what will you do with this? We present these new possibilities, which no-one ever imagined. Now people have to think, create and respond. Digital is not the end; there's something beyond that."

Hiroshi Ishii of MIT Media Lab
Hiroshi Ishii of MIT Media Lab

The music featured in the movie is a track called Hanging Out Of Moving Vehicles by RyIm. You can listen to more original music on Dezeen Music Project.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is a year-long collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers