metaDESKHiroshi Ishii, Brygg Ullmer / 1997


The metaDESK is our first platform for exploring the design of tangible user interfaces. The metaDESK integrates multiple 2D and 3D graphic displays with an assortment of physical objects and instruments, sensed by an array of optical, mechanical, and electromagnetic field sensors. The metaDESK “brings to life” these physical objects and instruments as tangible interfaces to a range of graphically-intensive applications.

Using the metaDESK platform, we are studying issues such as a) the physical embodiment of GUI (graphical user interface) widgets such as icons, handles, and windows; b) the coupling of everyday physical objects with the digital information that pertains to them.

Tangible Geospace
Brygg Ullmer and Professor Hiroshi Ishii

Tangible Geospace is the first application of the metaDESK platform. Tangible Geospace uses physical models of landmarks such as MIT’s Great Dome and the Media Lab as phicons (physical icons) to allow the user to manipulate 2D and 3D graphical maps of the MIT campus. Simultaneously, the arm-mounted “active LENS” displays a spatially-contiguous 3D view of the MIT campus. By grasping and moving the active LENS (a physically embodied window), the user can navigate the 3D representation of the campus building-space. Tangible Geospace also introduces concepts such as the “passive LENS,” a passive optical fiber-bundle which acts as an independent graphics display on the back-projected metaDESK surface.