Absurdly Cool: The Great Attractor’s Bouncing Ball

On July 13, 1977, New York went completely dark for two days after a few bolts of lightning brought down the power grid supplying the city with electricity…or so they want you to believe. They being the Men in Black, who know for a fact that the blackout was a practical joke caused by a few dimwitted aliens and their hyperactive golden ball toy. Poking holes in MIB headquarters is only a taste of the sphere’s true power.

Movies can’t be trusted when it comes to factually depicting the world’s greatest events, inventions and notable moments of the past. Most of the time, they just make it up as they go along. But what if materials could defy gravity, so that we could leave them suspended in mid-air? ZeroN is a physical and digital interaction element that floats and moves in space by computer-controlled magnetic levitation.

Check out this video from the MIT Media Lab: it features a complex device that uses magnetic levitation to create several novel applications. Create a planetary system with orbits or create some complex 3D maps using a ball as your camera.

“Levitated Interaction Element,” out of the MIT Media Lab, uses a magnetically-floating ball as an interface. Advantage: free-form 3D interaction with physical, tangible feedback.
“SoundWave,” from Microsoft Research and the University of Washington, uses an ordinary mic and speaker, with the aid of the Doppler Effect, to add natural interaction without additional sensors. Advantage: no special hardware needed for gestures – not even the use of a camera. Another win for the power of sound. (You can even listen to music at the same time.

Gestures are becoming an increasingly popular means of interacting with computers. “MirageTable” from Microsoft Research builds on the growing power of Kinect by adding natural perspective and the illusion of real-world manipulation. Advantage: a more complete illusion. (

“With multi-touch fully exploited and the basics of camera vision largely understood, interaction moves to the realm of free space, ‘augmenting’ your world with gestures that find some physical connection. They surprise by working in some way that seems intuitive and natural, somewhere away from what seems to be the realm of the computer.

And early in the month of May, we see a flurry of new research in just this area. Not one but two projects from Microsoft hold potential, and one from MIT Media Lab.


itle: Levitated Interaction Element
Researchers: Jinha Lee, MIT Media Lab Tangible Media Group,
in collaboration with
Rehmi Post, MIT Center for Bits and Atoms
Advisor: Hiroshi Ishii, MIT Media Lab Tangible Media Group
Institution: MIT





About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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