Relief by Daniel Leithinger, Adam Kumpf, Hiroshi Ishii of MIT’s Tangible Media Group is an actuated tabletop display, which is able to render and animate three-dimensional shapes with a malleable surface. It allows users to experience and form digital models like geographical terrain in an intuitive manner. The tabletop surface is actuated by an array of 120 motorized pins, which are controlled with a platform built upon open-source hardware and software tools. Each pin can be addressed individually and senses user input like pulling and pushing.
Similar in some ways to FEELEX, “Relief” utilizes commercially available components and open source hard- and software to provide a comparably low-cost, scalable platform, which can be used for creating prototypes with a variety of form factors and applications domains. The display is both able to render shapes and sense user input through a malleable surface, which is actuated by an array of electric slide potentiometers.
This is obviously a relatively crude prototype but with further development and finer grain the potential for 3D modeling objects with tactile feedback is huge. Imagine being able to push or pull an object in the same way as sculptors work clay, having a malleable interface (with an undo function) would make the process much more natural and intuitive.
Read their paper, Relief: A Scalable Actuated Shape Display here