by Meridith Levinson

The Future of Human Computer Interfaces

Nov 04, 20115 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsInnovationInternet

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group are prototyping new, novel and more natural ways for people to interact with computers and access and store information. Their innovations have been designed to improve and enrich our personal and professional lives, making it easier to create, communicate, collaborate and even cook. Here are 10 inventions that enhance human-computer interactions, improve the in-store shopping experience, and even help us kick bad habits.

Augmented Product Displays

Natan Linder, Yoav Reches and Ilya Tsekov have reimagined the product displays you see in stores for tech savvy, connected shoppers. Their interactive product display counter gives shoppers product information and Web access so that they can read reviews and do additional research on the products they’re interested in purchasing. The Augmented Product Counter can also connect shoppers to sales people via video conferencing. LuminAR technology, which consists of a Pico-projector, camera and wireless computer, powers the Augmented Product Counter.

Cooking in the Digital Age


Leave it to MIT students to reinvent cooking. Marcelo Coelho, the technological gastronome behind the Fluid Interfaces Group’s Cornucopia project, notes on Cornucopia’s Website that the tools we use to cook today aren’t much different from those our ancestors used hundreds of years ago. Coelho wanted to bring cooking into the digital age, so he developed different cooking systems. The Virtuoso Mixer (pictured) is composed of a three-tiered rotating carousel that encourages cooks to experiment with different tastes and food combinations. It is equipped with thermoelectric heating and cooling elements and an insulated glass cover to quickly bake and modify the temperatures of the produced foods.



Pranav Mistry’s goal with his “Inktuitive” project is ultimately to make it easier for designers to visually represent their ideas. Inspired by designers’ traditional tools (pen and paper) and by more modern technology (CAD software), Mistry developed a design system that consists of a piece of paper, an infrared LED computer monitor, an ultrasonic pen and an ultrasonic receiver. Designers can sketch ideas on paper using the ultrasonic pen, but they’re not bound to the paper to represent their ideas. They can “sketch” above the paper, and the system captures their strokes and represents them in 3D on the computer screen.



Seth Hunter designed an interactive table where workers can comfortably sit and take and store notes. The MemTable consists of two projectors, two cameras, two mirrors, and software that supports brainstorming, decision-making, event planning and story boarding, as well as five different types of inputs (text, image capture, sketching, laptop capture and audio).



People who want to de-clutter the tops of their desks will welcome Pranav Mistry’s Mouseless, an invisible computer mouse powered by an Infrared (IR) laser beam and an IR camera, both of which are embedded in a computer. Mouseless works by creating a plane of IR laser just above the surface a computer sits on. A user cups her hand, as if she were holding a physical computer mouse, and the laser lights up her hand. The IR camera detects the cups of IR light that the user’s hand creates and interprets changes in the position of those lights as cursor movements and mouse clicks.



If your desk is littered with Post-it notes reminding you of meetings, phone calls you need to make, and groceries you need to pick up, you’ll love the way Pranav Mistry updated the ubiquitous sticky note for the digital age. Mistry’s Quickies are “smart,” active sticky notes that remind us of appointments and help us better manage our lives by integrating with our computers and smartphones. A digital pen captures information on a sticky note while software stores the handwritten note as images and converts the handwriting into text using handwriting recognition algorithms. A commonsense knowledge engine and artificial intelligence process the text.

Computers Made of Paper


Marcelo Coelho, the inventor of the Virtuoso Food Mixer, also makes computers out of paper. He and his collaborators Lyndl Hall and Joanna Berzowska developed a series of techniques for building sensors, actuators and circuit boards that look, feel and have the physical properties of paper. They embed electro-active inks, conductive threads and smart materials directly into paper during the papermaking process. This innovation could make computers even more pervasive—and at a much lower cost.

Kick Bad Habits with ReflectOns


Sajid Sadi has imagined a computer that can help people lose weight. Except it doesn’t look like a traditional computer. It’s a fork equipped with a sensor. According to Sadi’s Website, the souped-up fork attempts to stop people from overeating by encouraging them to eat slowly. Eating slowly allows an individual’s blood sugar to rise to the point at which it indicates satiety to the eater. When people eat fast, they tend to overeat because they miss these natural cues. The fork works by measuring the time between bites and providing “subtle haptic feedback” when someone eats too quickly.



When you need to take a quick note, you have a couple of options, none of which are ideal: You can write it on your hand (gross), punch it into your smartphone (cumbersome), or record it on a piece of paper (unreliable: paper always gets lost). Sajid Sadi and Doug Fritz have come up with what they think is a better way to take quick notes: the JotWatch. It looks like a wristwatch equipped with a stylus. Using the stylus, you can take quick notes on the “watch’s” face. Buttons on the side of the JotWatch allow you to toggle between all of your notes.



TaPuMa stands for tangible public maps. These are digital, touch-screen maps on which you can place everyday objects (e.g. plane tickets, cash, credit cards, cell phones, chewing gum) and get access to relevant, just-in-time location information. If you were using a TaPuMa at an airport, for example, and you placed your boarding pass on the map, the map would show you how to get to your gate. If you put your credit card on the map, it could tell you the location of an ATM or money exchange.