• 01.25.12

MIT’s Recompose is a Touch Screen, Keyboard and 3-D Display [Video]

The experimental interface from MIT’s Media Lab combines gestures, tactile feedback, and 3-D visuals into an intriguing tile-like display.

In touch-based computer interfaces, the touching only goes one-way: you can tap and swipe and pinch the objects onscreen, but since they aren’t physical, you get no tactile feedback. A team of designers at MIT Media Lab’s “Tangible Media group” are trying to rectify this with their Recompose concept, an experimental computer input device that’s part keyboard, part gestural interface, and part 3D display surface. Trust us, it’ll all make sense after you watch the video:


Recompose was created by Anthony DeVincenzi, Matthew Blackshaw, Dávid Lakatos, Daniel Leithinger, and Hiroshi Ishii at MIT Media Lab.

Formally, the team describes Recompose as “direct and gestural interaction with an actuated surface.” Basically, it’s a touch-based interface that touches back, using physical tiles (like the keys on a keyboard) mounted on little pedestals that can rise or sink based on direct input (ie, pushing them like buttons) or gestural input (waving your hands over them like a Jedi master).


But the extra bit of genius in Recompose is its third purpose as a display device. Actuators in the tiles can provide force-feedback to your fingers to “display” tactile information about your data (this could be useful for CAD designs or sophisticated maps or scientific visualizations). Plus, since it’s literally a grid of physical objects, it can display information visually by morphing its own topography in 3D. Bar charts just got way more awesome.



Recompose has 3D gestural commands for magnifying, moving, rotating and tilting digital objects.

In true MIT-hacker manner, Recompose is built on the back of another Media Lab innovation, the Relief table — an “actuated tabletop display” which provides the 120 motorized tiles. Maybe next they’ll combine Recompose with the video capabilities of Microsoft Surface, and really blow our minds…

[Read more at MIT Media Lab]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.