How do we get the digital (back) into the physical world? An answer to this question could be so-called radical atoms. In a sort of digital core meltdown, they bond information and material—the information liberated from the constraints of the pixel realm, the atoms wrenched out of their static state and set in motion. The results are smart materials that can be computer-modeled and remodeled into ever-new forms. Radical atoms in the hands of visionary scientists and engineers are being formed into high-tech materials and applications with astounding properties and capabilities. Neuroscience and biotechnology, robotics, hardware and software play roles in this; so do traditional practices in the crafts and trades. A hotspot of these trailblazing developments is the MIT-Medialab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Hiroshi Ishii and his Tangible Media Group have been working on new forms of human-machine interaction for over 20 years. The breakthrough prototypes that have been emerging there can now be seen in the Radical Atoms exhibition at the Ars Electronica Center.
“Every pixel is an optical illusion, but nothing real. Our belief is tangibility’. You can directly touch and manipulate and feel.“ Hiroshi Ishii, director of the Tangible Media Group of MIT Media Lab
Active Wood Products
Novel printing and composite material technologies can now overcome previous limitations on wood forming. Flat sheets of customprinted wood composite can be designed to selftransform in controlled and unique ways.
bioLogic is growing living actuators and synthesizing responsive bio-skin in the era where bio is the new interface.
Cillia is a means of 3-D printing hair structures. This technical solution constitutes a design innovation that will simplify the production of synthetic fur. Nowadays it seems as if 3-D printers can churn out just about anything—from a sports car to food to human skin. Nevertheless, there are some things that, up to now, have required a huge amount of computational time and power to generate with a 3-D printer.
The Ars Electronica Futurelab launched its Spaxels (space pixels) R&D program in 2012 and has been enhancing and upgrading the technology ever since. In November 2015, the Ars Electronica Futurelab teamed up with Intel for an aviation feat that set a world record in the category “Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously.”
inFORM is a shape display that gives physical form to digital information. Motorized pins extend from a tabletop to form a physical sculpture that users can view, touch and deform.
kinetiX is a new, transformable material featuring a design that resembles a cellular structure. It consists of rigid plates or rods and elastic hinges. These modular elements can be combined in a wide variety of ways and assembled into multifarious forms.
musicBottles is an interactive installation for visitors to interact with soundwaves encapsulated in bottles.
Perfect Red represents a clay-like material preprogrammed to have many of the features of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. Perfect Red is a fictional material that can be sculpted like clay—with hands and hand tools—and responds according to rules inspired by CAD operations, including snapping to primary geometries, Boolean operations, and parametric design.
SandScape is a tangible interface for designing and understanding landscapes through a variety of computational simulations using sand.