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Demo of Spatially Aware Blocks

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the but-will-they-survive-my-2-year-old dept.

Toys 109

Chris Anderson writes "This 5-min demo just posted from last week's TED — got a big crowd reaction. It's a new technology coming out of MIT, about to be commercialized. Siftables have been seen before, but not like this. They're toy blocks/tiles that are spatially aware and interact with each other in very cool ways. Initial use may be as toys, but there's big potential for new paradigm of spatially-aware physical mini computers."

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109 comments

How long before they become self-aware too? (4, Funny)

Bruiser80 (1179083) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846381)

I for one welcome our modular overlords.

Re:How long before they become self-aware too? (1)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847741)

Will one block get suicidal if its girlfriend block decides to leave it for another block?

first prost (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846383)

win

Re:first prost (0, Offtopic)

aliquis (678370) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846455)

.. fail [failblog.org] !

Amazing (-1, Flamebait)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846413)

What's amazing is that TED has been reduced to this kind of schlock.

It used to be about thinkers, now it's apparently about ridiculously complicated and useless technology.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846587)

Yeah, now it's just like a bad analogy of something.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846595)

How can you undermine the evolution of culture so readily? Would you have said the same of the piano when it was first invented? Don't be so ready do dismiss technology that promotes creativity and spatial understanding.

Re:Amazing (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847265)

I can't help but agree with badanalogyguy, this is kind of underwhelming. You could build something like this (albeit, larger and bulkier) with software, instructions and off the shelf parts found online, and a working knowledge of python. I have respect for the time and effort they put into it (obviously the sequencer and the you-write-it video storybook took some time and effort, not to mention hardware assembly), but it really isn't that far reaching; just a lite, ready to sell idea. Good luck getting the VC for this, but it didn't exactly bend my mind. ...convergence!

A lot less useless the Minority Report (5, Interesting)

DrYak (748999) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846641)

But still, these blocks are a lot less useless than Oblong's display or Microsoft's surface. (Which none the less were largely touted technologies) Because :

- The blocks stay on the table. You won't need a gorilla arm to operate them, unlike the Oblong's "spatial operated environment" which require you to stand upright and hold your hands in front of you.

- The display is on a screen in front of the user, thus the user is looking naturally straigh ahead. No need to bend the neck of a table like with MS' surface.

- The block provide tactile feed back as they are physical object, making the user aware of how the software might interpret the movements. (unlike Oblong's SOE - Which might interpret unrelated movement of the users' hand as command-gestures)

- And they are an improvement over MIT's previous inductance-based tokens, as they have mini display helping the user understand better what he's doing.

Re:A lot less useless the Minority Report (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846717)

But even with the made-for-demo demos shown in the video, you can't say that the blocks are intuitive. Did you see the drum demo?

Sony did in 2001 (2, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846851)

Here's [sonycsl.co.jp] something very simmilar from sony in 2001.

the sony one used a surface to contain the video, whereas the siftables have their own screen and apparently contain tilt and motion sensors not just position on the surface screen. hence they have a lot more gestures. But Sony had the basic idea working.

Re:A lot less useless the Minority Report (1)

mkiwi (585287) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847847)

When I read the title I immediately thought air hockey. These blocks would be cool floating around and interacting with each other on a cushion of air.

Re:A lot less useless the Minority Report (1)

merreborn (853723) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849161)

One of the clips toward the beginning of the video actually suggested one of the more realistic applications to me. It looked like someone sorted all the blocks showing sky in the background into one pile, and everything else into another.

Sorting audio, video, and image files is one of the more tedious tasks in computing.
Sorting physical objects is something we tend to be a bit better at. Like, pulling all the quarters out of your change jar. You're able to interact with a large number of objects rapidly. Meanwhile, a mouse gives you the ability to interact with one object at a time.

Say you've just pulled a few thousand images off of the 4 GB SD card in your digital camera. It seems to me, it'd be a lot easier to sort them (by when/where they were taken, who's in them, whatever) if you could see some of them on the table in front of you on a few dozen of these "blocks", sort them into piles in a second or two, and then somehow trigger a "give me the next batch to sort" command, and start again.

However, there's a somewhat simpler (and probably cheaper) way to make an interface like this work. A pair of VR goggles, a webcam, a handful of objects (card, blocks, whatever) with unique shapes printed them (which you could manufacture for a few cents each) and some simple image detection/overlay software [gizmodo.com.au] .

The blocks in TFA will always be at least a couple of bucks each, meaning it's expensive to have more than a few of them to interact with; additionally, they need to be recharged, and they're expensive to break/lose. With the webcam/goggles/image overlay technique, you can interact with as many objects as you want for no additional cost, they don't need batteries, and the replacement cost is trivial. It's a bit more cumbersome (VR goggles), and they don't stack as well, though.

Re:Amazing (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846719)

What makes you say it's not about thinkers? Look at how technology has influenced great minds in the world. Einstein, for example, came up with the Theory of Relativity while thinking about a train. What if there had been no trains? Maybe Einstein would never have came up with his theories of General and Special Relativity and physics would be a lot less rich for it.

Food for thought: if you had a spacially-aware computer, what could you do with it? What applications can you come up with? What could you do with it from an infrastructure standpoint?

The mind needs these toys. Great thinkers often surround themselves with them.

Re:Amazing (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846755)

The key difference is that I would trumpet the thinker and not the toymaker. It wasn't the guy who built the train that developed relativity.

Re:Amazing (3, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846901)

But it was the guy who invented the train that enabled the thinker to think.

All the world is connected. Einstein came up with this Relativity while thinking about a train. So the inventor of the train, the guys who built the train that Einstein thought about, the train's engineer, and all the people on the train all contributed to Einstein's original thought. Einstein's parents were responsible for his upbringing. Einstein's teachers influenced his thinking.

My point is that while the thinker came up with the thought, he did not do so alone. Isaac Newton noted about science that we stand on the shoulders of giants. That refers not just to previous thinkers, but to all of human experience.

Don't be so quick to dismiss things out of hand. A spatially-aware cube is and important building block of other things and is certainly a technological marvel to behold in and of itself.

Re:Amazing (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846869)

Spatial awareness is one more step towards real sentience... self-awareness by displacement. Non-trivial.

Re:Amazing (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847229)

Spatial awareness is one more step towards real sentience

While I support this statement, I wonder how 'human sentience' could be improved by boosting the average (spatial) awareness of the population. My guess is that there is much more potential than in relying on technology (e.g. to build robots).

CC.

Re:Amazing (2, Interesting)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847457)

There is another argument about sentience and spatial awareness, as many with autistic spectral disorders lack personal displacement awareness. Understanding spacial relativity helps humans, who largely understand this, design objects with this 'sense', and can therefore increase the probability that object interaction can be predictable, and therefore collisions and undesired actions preventable.

Re:Amazing (2, Informative)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847499)

>> What if there had been no trains? Maybe Einstein would never have came up with his theories of General and Special Relativity and physics would be a lot less rich for it.

WTF? He probably would have thought of bicycles with mounted headlights.

His theory had less to do with the technology of the train than with the relative speed of (fast) moving objects. If not trains or bicycles, perhaps baseballs or horses.

I agree that these blocks seem like much ado about nothing.

      -dZ.

Re:Amazing (0, Offtopic)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847701)

WTF? He probably would have thought of bicycles with mounted headlights.

No. He thought about someone walking in the train while the train was moving. That's what started the whole chain of thought, at least according to Einstein's accounting of it.

A bicycle with mounted headlights isn't the same thing.

Re:Amazing (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849007)

According to his account, that was an analogy that he used himself to work out the "light problem" that bothered him: if the speed of light is constant, what would happen if a train was going at the speed of light and it turned on its headlight.

        -dZ.

Re:Amazing (1)

McFadden (809368) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846963)

I thought the tech was nice, but the applications were a really poor way of demonstrating them.

Apart from the word/math games for kids, some of the other ideas were really lacking. The music sequencer was a perfect example where they'd taken something that works perfectly well with current tech and tried to shoehorn their blocks into it, to make a cool demo. The word puzzles were fine - you could instantly see how much fun it would be. But some of the other stuff was just gimmicky.

What they need to do is identify where these blocks could be applied in circumstances where they become an ideal medium that offers something over and above conventional methods. It seems that they have a great product but not a great deal of inspiration about how to use them.

Re:Amazing (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847545)

Right. I was also thinking "great, now I gotta keep track of where I leave the frikkin' blocks, and make sure the cat keeps away from them."

      -dZ.

Re:Amazing (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850237)

Why do you need to keep the cat away from them? Why wouldn't you write some insane app where the cat's antics with the blocks trigger feedback that amuses the cat and everybody else in the room?

I think these blocks are way cool because they encourage exactly this kind of "out of the box" thinking and creativity.

Re:Amazing (1)

Sabathius (566108) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848315)

You're an unhappy person, who's become so desensitized that nothing you see or hear has any merit. What's sad is that you cannot see how amazing this is.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26848901)

Very well put. You see a lot of such bitter people on Slashdot who constantly feel the need to pull down the achievements of others, simply because they've accomplished little with their lives.

Re:Amazing (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850921)

Very well put. You see a lot of such bitter people on Slashdot who constantly feel the need to pull down the achievements of others, simply because they've accomplished little with their lives.

Maybe. You also see a number of people who, while having accomplished little, in a way credit themselves with the great discoveries of others. They do this by maintaining a sort of pious reverence for the greatness of human technological development. (And sometimes by adopting a tone of righteous superiority toward strangers who are not as excited as they are about each new shiny bauble.) Such people naturally get excited about talks and demos at TED. (Others, including some real innovators, and some otherwise perfectly fine folks favor such talks, too.)

The former can get carried away in their enthusiasm and thus provide a juicy target for the bitter, at the same time that they mildly irk those of us who are somewhere in the middle: who enjoy well-made things and hope such things will continue to be made, but who are more concerned about happiness, inner peace, eudaimonia, or whatever you want to call living well. We think that material goods, however good they may be, can only play a small part in that more important project.

The good and bad in human affairs don't depend crucially on whether siftables are great, insanely great, merely nifty, or indifferent. At least, that's what I think.

Great. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846439)

This is great news, one step closer to our sexbot overlords.

Those are awesome (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846461)

I don't think there is much more that can be said... the TED video is awesome. I can see that tech built into things like phones. Shake it at your PC and get an address book sync. and other such things... awesome.

Shakin' (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847051)

I'd make one of my house, then another of the pesky neighbor kid, and shake the kid out of the house.

why? And, did anyone else notice what the kid did? (3, Interesting)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847909)

Shake it at your PC and get an address book sync. and other such things... awesome.

Perhaps I have a healthy dose of skepticism of virtually anything that comes from the MIT Media lab, but I don't find this even remotely desirable. And have you noticed that the iPhone for two product generations has had the capability to utilize motion for gestures, and hasn't?

Also, notice what the little kid does with it, after watching other people play with it. The kid saw that they could change, make noise, etc. And what does he do?

He stacks them like regular building blocks. Completely treating them as just pure, inanimate physical objects, despite having it extensively demonstrated to him that they can be interacted with. Which pretty much shoots to hell Merrill's high-falutin' speech about...gah, it was so buzzword-laden, I can't even remember. Something about how we need these interactive blocks to learn?

Oh yes, and the sound/music thing was a direct ripoff of something that did exactly the same thing on a multi-touch table, about a year or two ago, recognizing shapes placed on the table and how they were manipulated.

This seems like a great possibility for adult-level gaming (nobody's going to buy something this expensive just for their kids), but nothing more.

Re:why? And, did anyone else notice what the kid d (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26850177)

Do you mean the reactable?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactable

Re:why? And, did anyone else notice what the kid d (1)

almost_lunchtime (1370619) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850201)

You might be thinking of the Korg Kaoss pad, used by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead amongst others: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4R57PuvD-8 [youtube.com]

Re:why? And, did anyone else notice what the kid d (1)

daffmeister (602502) | more than 5 years ago | (#26851047)

You misinterpreted his comments about infant learning. He didn't say that you need _these_ interactive blocks to learn, he said that physical things like blocks are instrumental to learning. The point being that our brains are better wired to deal with spatial relationship than abstract numbers and the like.

That kid was pretty young and I don't think anyone was expecting him to create a symphony. He did exactly what you'd expect a child of that age to do.

Re:why? And, did anyone else notice what the kid d (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#26851821)

Are you f'ing serious? You are basing this opinion of the notion based on what a toddler did with them? Crayons will never catch on either because kids that age just want to eat them... Holy shit man, if our use of things were based on how toddlers interact with things we would be getting Playdoh burgers at fast food places.

I, for one,... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846493)

... welcome our new replicator overlords. *cough*

Re:I, for one,... (1)

mail2345 (1201389) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847193)

I, for one, welcome our new redundant Skynet/Overlord comment overlords.

Re:I, for one,... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26849349)

I, for one, welcome our new recursive overlords.

Minicomputers (1)

77Punker (673758) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846511)

News about new minicomputers would've been great if this was 1965!

Watched this last night... (4, Insightful)

Facetious (710885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846519)

I subscribe to the TED channel in Miro, and it so happens that I watched this last night with my 11-year old son. I was impressed, but for me a better indicator of a product's viability is how my son perceives the product. He thought they were awesome.

Re:Watched this last night... (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847855)

Whether or not an 11 year old thinks they are awesome does indicate their marketability. Their viability as tool will be determined by where they are two weeks after he gets them - in use, or in the bottom of the closet.

Re:Watched this last night... (1)

cool_arrow (881921) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850743)

Yep. Many things are awesome for about 10 minutes.

Someone should combine these (3, Funny)

uxbn_kuribo (1146975) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846541)

With Self Replicating Robots. Skynet's soldiers will need to be able to know their proximity to one another.

Cube World Anyone? (4, Interesting)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846553)

How is this different than Cube World [radicagames.com] ?

Re:Cube World Anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846753)

How is this different than Cube World [radicagames.com] ?

Are you serious? Did you watch the demo or are you just trollin?

Re:Cube World Anyone? (1)

Bohnanza (523456) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847259)

Cube World was the first thing I thought of, too. These blocks are a lot more advanced, but it's pretty much the same idea.

These are real (2, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846813)

I mean seriously, doing something on a computer is neat but that doesn't mean doing the same thing in the real world is easy. In a computer, it is no problem to have all objects aware of the location of all other objects. Not only is communication between processes/functions/threads/whatever easy, the objects in a computer program probably aren't self controlling little scripts. They are probably just objects rendered by a larger program controlling them all.

It is rather something different to have a bunch of physical, discrete blocks that are aware like this.

Re:These are real (4, Informative)

dreemernj (859414) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847151)

The Cube World stuff he linked to is a series of children's toys. They are physical blocks with little stick figure people in them. If you put them together they recognize the connection and react. You can also do things like tilt them to interact with the stick figure people.

The Siftables at TED are much more capable and more powerful. But there are at least some basic elements that are almost identical to the CubeWorld toys.

One of my younger cousins has these. She loves them.

Re:Cube World Anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847899)

I spent a few minutes poking around that site trying to find out how to start the game, until I noticed the 'battery installation' link tucked away in a side-menu and realised that it was just an advert for a toy.

Cubed Anyone? (2, Informative)

Fumus (1258966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848141)

Bah. It's just Cubed [thinkgeek.com] v2.0

Re:Cube World Anyone? (1)

elcorvax (1395311) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848167)

Cube World can't Add !!

Sony Data Tiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26848555)

Actually looks like Sony Data Tiles; see the You Tube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmD8EKWxD4M

Re:Cube World Anyone? (1)

Thail (1124331) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849209)

There's another block out there that is also very similar, event he video is similar, though they aren't quite as advanced. Check them out at Thinkgeek [thinkgeek.com]

Do they... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846701)

FTS: They're toy blocks/tiles that are spatially aware and interact with each other in very cool ways.

If you place about seven or eight of them in a horizontal line, do they disappear? That would be a cool way for them to interact.

Re:Do they... (3, Funny)

daveime (1253762) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846797)

No, but if you leave two of them next to each other, the following morning they will have stacked on top of each other, and then miraculously after 9 months, a smaller third block will appear from nowhere, that seems to do nothing but emit an annoying shrieking sound and leak battery acid.

Re:Do they... (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847859)

On February 14th 2008 Tamagotchis became self aware. They decided our fate in a millisecond.

Re:Do they... (1)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847903)

Wow, I think you just describe the plot of *batteries not included [imdb.com] .

Or more to the point Tiletoy anyone? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846709)

Re:Or more to the point Tiletoy anyone? (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850707)

Tiletoy with a bigger budget and no openness. MIT is good for the big budget part... Shame about the lack of openness.

How do you charge them? (5, Interesting)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846735)

Hopefully you just dump 'em in a box and they inductively charge. Otherwise the demand for power squids is gonna go through the roof.

Re:How do you charge them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847165)

There were USB ports on them if you watched it...

No mention of price? (3, Insightful)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846763)

They must cost way too much for the price to not be mentioned.

Re:No mention of price? (2, Informative)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846885)

i think this is a prototype, so it may be in the range of 70-300k for that first set. The price may come down once they start producing more.

It's a prototype, dummy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26846919)

Of course expensive. The first thing you have to buy is a freakin' research university and a half dozen grad students.

That said, they look quite well made.

Re:No mention of price? (2, Informative)

ChienAndalu (1293930) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847325)

The prototypes are probably quite expensive. Here [mit.edu] is a more technical description of the system. I think you can find most of this stuff in ~50$ cellphones, and they even have an antenna. I don't think why this should cost more than ~30$ a piece.

Battery life (1)

kramulous (977841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850373)

I bet those little suckers also drain the battery.

I hope they recharge them wirelessly, otherwise they will end up failing in the market if you have to plug each one into a recharger.

This is going to be bad (3, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846789)

Smart building blocks? I'm not looking forward to a Lego Terminator coming out of this.

This is always how it starts. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847931)

Next they will make smaller and smaller blocks, and soon if you get enough blocks together they will become intelligent and then its game over.

A comment on the comments: (2, Interesting)

Nick Sz (1467569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846793)

I find it fascinating that a large amount of the comments are odes to the death of TED.

This is a amazing education tool (not an education toy) I would buy a set for my godson in a flash.

I just hope that Moore's law brings us 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primmer' by the time I start a family.

Re:A comment on the comments: (4, Insightful)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847003)

I was thinking along the same lines.

They'd probably be excellent for teaching children to read and write. Just combine it with software that reads or tries to read the words the child spells by combining the letters. The child could be given a specific set of letters and rewarded by how many words they can spell correctly using the set. Or you could have the program pronounce words and the child then reproduces the word with the blocks.

Granted these are all things you could do with a computer now, but this obviously allows for easier manipulation by the child and is more intuitive than using a keyboard. Not to mention it might be indistinguishable from a game in the childs eyes. And getting kids to enjoy and actively seek out learning is probably the biggest hurdle in our educational system.

Re:A comment on the comments: (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847505)

I couldn't agree more. I suspect these folks are in the minority Luddite contingent of /. These blocks were amazing, and are a great UI, especially for kids.

I look forward to being able to buy these blocks in a store one day.

Re:A comment on the comments: (1)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848073)

You hit on the problem, indirectly. This site is filled with people who are pissed that people aren't forced to use the command line to interact with computers anymore. Any sort of UI that takes less than four years to learn gives them a rage-on.

Re:A comment on the comments: (0, Redundant)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849705)

I couldn't agree more. I suspect these folks are in the minority Luddite contingent of /. These blocks were amazing, and are a great UI, especially for kids.

Or, perhaps, they just think this idea is stupid. There are tons of idiotic ideas that come out in the tech world. There's nothing wrong with finding any particular idea useless.

Uh-huh (5, Interesting)

BigBlueOx (1201587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846841)

I believe the first Replicators were built to be toys too.

Uh-huh

Re:Uh-huh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847029)

Came in for the SG-1 reference. Not leaving disappointed.

Quake Blocks for Stroke Victims (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 5 years ago | (#26846875)

Back around 2001, I got an email from a researcher (in Manitoba, if memory serves me) who was working with hardware blocks and a modified Quake engine.

When the blocks were plugged together, internal microcontrollers reported the block configuration back to the master circuit, which translated the block configuration into the Quake engine.

Result: user assembles blocks, Quake displays the block configuration.

The hope was that the system could help with rehabilitation of stroke victims. I don't know the outcome of the project, but I remember that it was a serious university-level program.

I regret that I lost the name and email address of the guy who contacted me. If you're him, or know him, please get in touch -- I'd like to follow up.

Is someone working on digital tabletop RPG tech? (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847101)

I've just played a pretty grueling PnP campaign using the Hackmaster rules (IMO superior design to D&D). Seeing these blocks gave me many ideas for how some of the tedious features of tabletop roleplaying are ripe to be outsourced to a computer. I initially pictured each player having a touchpad that displays relevant information, like a map of explored territory, "what they see" and their character sheet. The real payoff (and this is definitely needed) would be in large combat situations. All it would take would be some positionally-aware dice that could transmit their rest-after-roll position, a tracking system for keeping track of who is where (substituting for miniatures), etc. I briefly considered that these blocks could play the role of characters and NPCs, so you could spatially represent their configuration. But I think these give you too much freedom.

My (very realistic) dream is to have a company like Bioware get a contract to come up with very intuitive area creation tools for GMs, and when combat begins, the tabletop game would revert into essentially a turn-based CRPG. Since combat rules in these game systems are rather rigid, they don't allow for much "free" roleplaying anyway; the players basically choose their weapons, movements and other strategies in a way that would translate well into a computer game. But of course, instead of dumb AI enemies, they'd be fighting opponents animated by the intelligence and judgment of the GM, who could sure use some help rolling and figuring things out.

Another place where the GM could use lots of help is in creating locations. I would love to work on an algo that auto-generates "functional" villages within a broad range of constraints. I know that there's amateurish stuff like this online, but I know we can do better. The idea is that the digital creation can audit itself for physical, social and economic coherence, so that you don't have a village that's all soldiers and eight farmers, or a "normal" village with no children, for example.

Re:Is someone working on digital tabletop RPG tech (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847413)

That's actually been on slashdot before. [slashdot.org]

Google RPG table projector for more

Re:Is someone working on digital tabletop RPG tech (1)

hendrix2k (1099161) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849087)

I see a lot of potential for interactive RPG gaming here. Sure, games would still take place in dimly-lit basements, but with the blocks acting as detached characters/figurines and all combat taking place on-screen.

...Because D&D needs to get dorkier.

Power Source? (2)

LUH 3418 (1429407) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847263)

I'm assuming each block currently has its own rechargeable battery. If so, without some working wireless power transmission or at least a wireless charger, the blocks could become tremendously annoying. You would play with them, and then eventually they'd start randomly running out of juice while you're doing something... But obviously not all at the same time, you'd just have less and less blocks to play with.

A major breakthrough... (1)

Scare, code monkey (1329473) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847391)

...in scrabble technology.

Vibrator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847441)

Add a vibrating motor in these and you got yourself a deal! Oh, and seal them in something bio-proof.

Most boring TED evar (1)

Sandor at the Zoo (98013) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847471)

This is a tech that seems like it should be cool, but from the demos it's incredibly boring.

Useless information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847479)

In the video, at 3:26, the blocks play the first few notes of "Home Computer" by Kraftwerk....

Pointless shit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847729)

Yeah, my mouse can do all that, and a single screen is a lot more practical and environmental. WTF are we teaching people at MIT? How to make the next Apple fanboy happy? How to market something by calling it something faggy like "siftable?" I thought we used to do research in this country. Now we just try to whore out the next product. He's not a researcher, he's a salesman.

Uh... this is genius? (-1, Flamebait)

javabandit (464204) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847795)

Wow, what amazing genius.

What we have is an MIT CS dork who is bringing everything full circle and realizing that actually rotation, movement, and proximity are important factors in a human-to-machine interface.

NO SHIT SHERLOCK.

Is this really that ground-breaking? My god. Ever see a music mixing board? Ever see a keyboard synthesizer? Ever see a hifi music component? Ever see a car? Ever see a door? All of these machines have knobs, sliders, buttons, handles, and a brain which can alter the behavior of the machine based on the combinations of positions of knobs and sliders and buttons.

So this guy is asserting that these concepts are going to introduce a new and innovative way that humans interact with machines? GIVE ME A BREAK.

Perhaps next, he should create a new tool called a "roundling" which looks exactly like a tire and will revolutionize the way that humans move from one place to another.

Re:Uh... this is genius? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847863)

Jealous much?

Re:Uh... this is genius? (1)

kramulous (977841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26850441)

I agree. I was 'meh' about it.

I was expecting something new, innovative and cool. All I got was some nerd trying to sell some snake oil.

The audience was what was taking my attention. Where do they find these people?

power (2, Insightful)

mestar (121800) | more than 5 years ago | (#26847891)

and soon the batteries will last for more than 2 minutes.

Word game sounds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26847949)

I like that they made the word game sound like a speak and spell

Link to Siftables project page at MIT Media Lab (1)

mcpublic (694983) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848499)

The link in the article is to David Merrill's talk at TED2009. Here is a link to David's Siftables project page at the MIT Media Lab [mit.edu]

This will replace programming languages. (1)

neo (4625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848819)

Each block can contain:

A function
A variable or array
A recursion... or a special C shape for recursions...

And now you are programming by moving these blocks around in various ways.

Only if your cat get's on your desk it's going to be much worse than the time it stomped on your keyboard.

Toys grow up, you know (1)

rlseaman (1420667) | more than 5 years ago | (#26848917)

Clearly the demo focuses on children's toys because that is an easy place to start.

Imagine these generalized in various ways (but without breaking the block paradigm). For instance, make them a bit larger and magnetic and the tiles could interact with smart whiteboards. Some interface would allow activating different applications.

How about a groupware UML app that would validate expressions as a work group wrestles with laying out a software architecture? Or a calc B/C app for a high school AP class? Build the periodic table into an app - each tile assumes the correct element as it is laid out. Equations builders for physics and chemistry. These are a natural for languages like LabView that already rely on a block paradigm. Diagramming sentences. Clade diagrams in evolutionary biology.

Many excellent teachers are hampered by bad whiteboard technique. This could dramatically improve cooperative instruction at all levels.

Or simply the next step in the evolution of Magnetic Poetry...

Games, Education and Music (1)

heatseeker_around (1246024) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849157)

It's a GEM. I am a music composer. Not only i see in these cubes an amazing and interesting way to play and to have fun but i also see them as a light materialization of electronic music softwares (free or not like Psycledelics [pastnotecut.org] , Logic Pro [apple.com] ) and as an extension device ofr electronic instruments that can be used in studio or live.

Of course they're useless! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26849223)

Is it impossible for everyone to just think about how cool these things are instead of criticizing their usefulness? Usefulness is for blenders! These things are just neat-o!

Cool, a physical real-world Scratch (1)

stuntpope (19736) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849303)

The demo of making music reminded me of building things with Scratch [mit.edu] , except that it's done with physical objects instead of stacking and joining GUI elements on screen.

Honestly! (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 5 years ago | (#26849447)

This was one of the coolest technological demo's i've seen in a while. I wish I would have seen it live. What an awesome concept!

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