The world around us should not feel like today’s computer. Towards radical atoms and beyond.

Digital information can be visualized with pixels on a screen, but we cannot grasp and hold onto the information with our hands or experience it with all of our senses. A whole range of human capabilities that are used when interacting with physical
objects (or our body or other people) is lost.

As you have seen in class, Tangible Interfaces deal mostly with physical manifestations of digital data and digital representations of physical affordances and information. They rely heavily on the use of sensors, actuators and rigid physical objects. While we are comfortable interacting with digital information with remote controllers, such as mice, keyboards, or touch screens, to indirectly manipulate intangible pixels, these remain somewhat abstract handles to the digital world.

By coupling physical objects, materials and body interactions with digital information and computation we can try broaden the definition of tangible interfaces to the next level of Radical Atoms – materials that inform, conform, and transform to users’ needs. Imagine of a world where the abilities offered by computers are part of our natural environment; surfaces that physically embody information, clothes that adapt to our body without motors, trees that sway to the pulse of a city. We will try to think beyond that on new types of body and human mediated interactions that don’t have a name yet.

In groups of 3-5, and using concepts taught in class, try to create a novel interface experience or interaction  that uses at least one unusual material or body interaction for its input, output or both. Try to focus your interface towards a purpose – e.g., SPECIFIC PURPOSE: “this interface enables a two people to play piano and learn from each other over space and time” vs. NO PURPOSE: “this is an interface with a bajillion possibilities, helps you brush your teeth, walk your dog, reach across the abyss, and fold itself into a paper crane. ” Art can be a purpose, but if going this route please commit and take it seriously.

Think about the affordances, beauty, and usability of your interface and the selection of your medium, whether that be material, body, machine, or otherwise. Feel free to take inspiration from existing Tangible Media projects such as aeromorph, biologic and sandscape but don’t limit yourself to these!

Suggested timeline:

  • 1 week of brainstorming, sketching, preliminary research, and discussions with your group. Read papers and get inspired by recent HCI papers (ACM library, TMG archive, etc.).
  • 1 week of hands on research: conceptual + technical.
  • 2 weeks of prototyping, testing, implementing, and documenting your work.


  • Project overview page uploaded to wordpress with any related media, animations or photographs
  • Final Presentation of 10 minutes presenting + 10 minutes discussion +Demo.
  • Report using CHI Extended Abstract Format

Suggested readings:

Towards Radical Atoms – Form-giving to Transformable Materials

Dávid Lakatos, Hiroshi Ishii. 2012. Towards Radical Atoms — Form-giving to transformable materials. In proceedings of Cognitive Infocommunications (CogInfoCom), 2012 IEEE 3rd International Conference, Kosice, Slovakia

DOI: 10.1109/CogInfoCom.2012.6422023

bioLogic: Natto Cells as Nanoactuators for Shape Changing Interfaces

Lining Yao, Jifei Ou, Chin-Yi Cheng, Helene Steiner, Wen Wang, Guanyun Wang, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2015. bioLogic: Natto Cells as Nanoactuators for Shape Changing Interfaces. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1-10. DOI=10.1145/2702123.2702611

DOI: DOI=10.1145/2702123.2702611

aeroMorph – Heat-sealing Inflatable Shape-change Materials for Interaction Design

Jifei Ou, Mélina Skouras, Nikolaos Vlavianos, Felix Heibeck, Chin-Yi Cheng, Jannik Peters, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2016.
aeroMorph – Heat-sealing Inflatable Shape-change Materials for Interaction Design

In Proceedings of the 29th Annual Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST ‘16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 121-132. DOI: