I was not one of those lucky souls blessed with the ability to draw, so I’ll take any help I can get in that department. Rulers were a godsend in school, and tracing and color-by-numbers proved indispensable in times of need. So it was with a great deal of interest that I came across this demo video of the dePENd, an experimental surface that promises to make a skilled draftsman out of even the most hopeless dunces, using nothing but the magic of magnets.
The table, seen here in a video shot by DigInfo, is being developed by a group of researchers at the Yasuaki Kakehi Lab at Keio University in Japan. It seems incredible at first, but the mechanism at work is entirely straightforward. A computer controls the position of a magnet beneath a certain portion of the drawing surface, dragging whatever metal-tipped writing implement the user happens to be holding above it in straight lines and perfect circles. The resulting shapes aren’t perfectly crisp—you can tell there’s an awkward, delicate balance holding the pen steady and letting the magnet pull it around—but they’re definitely better than what most can do freehand.
The table works with any ordinary ball-point pen, though the current design requires that you start drawing at a specific point on the surface—the center point of the grid on which the magnet moves below. If you’re using a digital pen, the system can recognize where you are and guide you through a shape at any point.
Though it might not be a realistic solution for the pictorially challenged, the folks behind the project do see some potential real-world applications. In the clip, the man demonstrating mentions how such a system could be used for remote teaching, allowing students to learn by "feeling the sensation of how a teacher draws." I would settle for just feeling the sensation of drawing a square that didn’t look like it was about to fall over.
[Hat tip: Prosthetic Knowledge]