This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as TED2009 on Technorati.
David Merrill of MIT Media Lab likes playing with blocks. His project, Siftables, wonders what it would be like if we could use a computer not just with a “digital fingertip” – the mouse pointer – but by reaching in with both hands.
Siftables are interactive computers about the size of a cookie. They’re capable of displaying video and sound, and they’re sensitive to tilt and position. Tilt a block in one direction and a video plays forwards – tilt back and it rewinds. Surround a block with others and it interacts with others or complains about being surrounded.
He shows us a cartoon video where children can interact by moving the blocks, creating a novel interface. We see the blocks acting as number blocks that add and calculate, teaching a child the Fibonacci sequence.
The coup de grace of the demo is a gorgeous music application. One block controls a lead line, another a bass line, another a percussion track. Tilting a tempo block changes the speed of the piece, while putting a filter block near the drum changes the sound. It’s easy to imagine this being a live performance system for electronic music… quite possibly one of the applications his new company, Tacolab, will seek to commercialize after he gets his PhD.