The Future is Here: The Thumbles Robot Touch Screen

thumblesSmartphones and tablets, with their high-resolution touchscreens and ever-increasing number of apps, are all very impressive and good. And though some apps are even able to jump from the screen in 3D, the vast majority are still limited to two-dimensions and are limited in terms of interaction. More and more, interface designers are attempting to break this fourth wall and make information something that you can really feel and move with your own two hands.

Take the Thumbles, an interactive screen created by James Patten from Patten Studio. Rather than your convention 2D touchscreen that responds to the heat in your fingers, this desktop interface combines touch screens with tiny robots that act as interactive controls. Whenever a new button would normally pop on the screen, a robot drives up instead, precisely parking for the user to grab it, turn it, or rearrange it. And the idea is surprisingly versatile.

thumbles1As the video below demonstrates, the robots serve all sorts of functions. In various applications, they appear as grabbable hooks at the ends of molecules, twistable knobs in a sound and video editor, trackable police cars on traffic maps, and swappable space ships in a video game. If you move or twist one robot, another robot can mirror the movement perfectly. And thanks to their omnidirectional wheels, the robots always move with singular intent, driving in any direction without turning first.

Naturally, there are concerns about the practicality of this technology where size is concerned. While it makes sense for instances where space isn’t a primary concern, it doesn’t exactly work for a smartphone or tablet touchscreen. In that case, the means simply don’t exist to create robots small enough to wander around the tiny screen space and act as interfaces. But in police stations, architecture firms, industrial design settings, or military command centers, the Thumbles and systems like it are sure to be all the rage.

thumbles2Consider another example shown in the video, where we see a dispatcher who is able to pick up and move a police car to a new location to dispatch it. Whereas a dispatcher is currently required to listen for news of a disturbance, check an available list of vehicles, see who is close to the scene, and then call that police officer to go to that scene, this tactile interface streamlines such tasks into quick movements and manipulations.

The same holds true for architects who want to move design features around on a CAD model; corporate officers who need to visualize their business model; landscapers who want to see what a stretch of Earth will look like once they’ve raised a section of land, changed the drainage, planted trees or bushes, etc.; and military planners can actively tell different units on a battlefield (or a natural disaster) what to do in real-time, responding to changing circumstances quicker and more effectively, and with far less confusion.

Be sure to check out the demo video below, showing the Thumbles in action. And be sure to check out Patten Studio on their website.


Sources: fastcodesign.com, pattenstudio.com

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