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MIT researchers create ‘calm’ interfaces made of water

4 min read
Jake Peters  •  May 4, 2018
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We live in a world of digital overload. Texts, Facebook notifications, news alerts, and more ping us throughout the day. And when we do have a minute of downtime on the bus or in the grocery store line, we still can’t help but look at our phones.

Udayan Umapathi, a researcher at MIT Media Lab, wants to help us combat our obsession with screens. He and his colleagues are working on calm interfaces, user experiences that don’t constantly need our attention and that highlight natural elements to connect us to the real world.

The secret? Water.


Udayan and his team developed Programmable Droplets for Interaction. The researchers use a current to control water droplets placed on a grid, making them move, change shapes, merge together, and split apart.

“If you think about it, in your real life whenever you see steam on a mirror or rain droplets on a glass window, you naturally play with them. We are tapping into what is occurring in day-to-day activity to create a sense of excitement,” said Udayan in Fast Co Design.

The opportunities are endless. For example, think of someone writing a message on his or her smartphone that is then displayed on a steamed mirror. Or, using the droplets as a living watercolor palette that mixes color for artists.

“When we looked at various scenarios where you interact with water physically, and water has some physical information, a concrete example that stood out was an artist painting color,” said Udayan in Engadget.

Udayan has also been able to choreograph two dancing droplets of water, and he’s working on moving thousands of drops to show large animations.

With something as small and simple as a droplet of water, Udayan is reminding us to stop, smile, and breathe. And that’s a beautiful thing.