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GT LCC 3710 - Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms

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Published in the Proceedings of CHI '97, March 22-27, 1997, © 1997 ACM1Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfacesbetween People, Bits and AtomsHiroshi Ishii and Brygg UllmerMIT Media LaboratoryTangible Media Group20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 USA{ishii, ullmer} paper presents our vision of Human ComputerInteraction (HCI): "Tangible Bits." Tangible Bits allowsusers to "grasp & manipulate" bits in the center of users’attention by coupling the bits with everyday physicalobjects and architectural surfaces. Tangible Bits alsoenables users to be aware of background bits at theperiphery of human perception using ambient display mediasuch as light, sound, airflow, and water movement in anaugmented space. The goal of Tangible Bits is to bridgethe gaps between both cyberspace and the physicalenvironment, as well as the foreground and background ofhuman activities.This paper describes three key concepts of Tangible Bits:interactive surfaces; the coupling of bits with graspablephysical objects; and ambient media for backgroundawareness. We illustrate these concepts with threeprototype systems – the metaDESK, transBOARD andambientROOM – to identify underlying research issues.Keywordstangible user interface, ambient media, graspable userinterface, augmented reality, ubiquitous computing, centerand periphery, foreground and backgroundINTRODUCTION: FROM THE MUSEUMLong before the invention of personal computers, ourancestors developed a variety of specialized physical artifactsto measure the passage of time, to predict the movement ofplanets, to draw geometric shapes, and to compute [10].We can find these beautiful artifacts made of oak and brassin museums such as the Collection of Historic ScientificInstruments at Harvard University (Fig. 1).We were inspired by the aesthetics and rich affordances ofthese historical scientific instruments, most of which havedisappeared from schools, laboratories, and design studiosand have been replaced with the most general of appliances:personal computers. Through grasping and manipulatingthese instruments, users of the past must have developedrich languages and cultures which valued haptic interactionwith real physical objects. Alas, much of this richness hasbeen lost to the rapid flood of digital technologies.We began our investigation of "looking to the future ofHCI" at this museum by looking for what we have lostwith the advent of personal computers. Our intention wasto rejoin the richness of the physical world in HCI.BITS & ATOMSWe live between two realms:our physical environment andcyberspace. Despite our dualcitizenship, the absence ofseamless couplings betweenthese parallel existences leavesa great divide between theworlds of bits and atoms. Atthe present, we are tornbetween these parallel butdisjoint spaces. We are now almost constantly"wired" so that we can be here(physical space) and there(cyberspace) simultaneously[14]. Streams of bits leak outof cyberspace through amyriad of rectangular screensinto the physical world as photon beams. However, theinteractions between people and cyberspace are now largelyconfined to traditional GUI (Graphical User Interface)-basedboxes sitting on desktops or laptops. The interactions withthese GUIs are separated from the ordinary physicalenvironment within which we live and interact.Although we have developed various skills and workpractices for processing information through hapticinteractions with physical objects (e.g., scribblingmessages on Post-It™ notes and spatially manipulatingthem on a wall) as well as peripheral senses (e.g., beingaware of a change in weather through ambient light), mostof these practices are neglected in current HCI designbecause of the lack of diversity of input/output media, andtoo much bias towards graphical output at the expense ofinput from the real world [3]. Outline of This PaperTo look towards the future of HCI, this paper will presentour vision of Tangible Bits and introduce design projectsincluding the metaDESK, transBOARD and ambientROOMsystems to illustrate our key concepts. This paper is notintended to propose a solution to any one single problem. Rather, we will propose a new view of interface and raise aset of new research questions to go beyond GUI. FROM DESKTOP TO PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTIn 1981, the Xerox Star workstation set the stage for thefirst generation of GUI [16], establishing a "desktopmetaphor" which simulates a desktop on a bit-mappedFigure 1 Sketches madeat Collection of HistoricalScientific Instruments atHarvard UniversityPermission to make digital/hard copies of all or part of this work for personal orclassroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made ordistributed for profit or commercial advantage, the copyright notice, the title ofthe publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copyright is bypermission of th ACM, Inc. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on serversor to redistribute to lists, requires specific permission and/or a fee.CHI ‘97, Atlanta GA USACopyright 1997 ACM 0-89791-802-9/97/03 ..$3.50Ishii and Ullmer, Tangible Bits 2screen. The Star was the first commercial system whichdemonstrated the power of a mouse, windows, icons,property sheets, and modeless interactions. The Star alsoset several important HCI design principles, such as "seeingand pointing vs remembering and typing," and "what yousee is what you get." The Apple Macintosh brought thisnew style of HCI into the public's attention in 1984,creating a new stream in the personal computer industry [1].Now, the GUI is widespread, largely through thepervasiveness of Microsoft Windows.In 1991, Mark Weiser (Xerox PARC) published an articleon his vision of "Ubiquitous Computing" [18], illustratinga different paradigm of computing and HCI which pushescomputers into the background and attempts to make theminvisible.The aim of our research is to show concrete ways to movebeyond the current dominant model of GUI bound tocomputers with a flat rectangular display, windows, amouse, and a keyboard. To make computing trulyubiquitous and invisible, we seek to establish a new type ofHCI that we call "Tangible User Interfaces" (TUIs). TUIswill augment the real physical world by coupling digitalinformation to everyday physical objects and environments.Fig. 2 illustrates the transition of HCI from the GUI ofdesktop PCs to Tangible User Interfaces which will changethe world

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