MIT team creates computer interface using water droplets

MIT researchers are playing around with a totally novel way to utilise small water droplets as an interface for various things, including gaming and interactive data. The ‘programmable droplets’ they have created use a technique which they call ‘electrowetting’ to navigate along a grid-like surface.

To show how flexible the system is, the researchers created a couple of proof-of-concept examples. They illustrate how the droplet system can be utilised to play a basic ‘keep away’ type of game which uses the droplets as characters, and even how it can mix water colour paints into various hues.

There’s something quite eerie about how these droplets move, and how the system is able to precisely steer each droplet individually. The interactive game concept, where one has to fight other droplets with yours, and the computer then tries to steer them away from you, is mesmerising.

The researchers said the technique enabled a number of ‘primitive’ operations, including morphing, translating, splitting, and merging multiple droplets at the same time.

They added: “While these techniques have been previously applied to biological automation by other researchers and our own group, we have now started applying these techniques to create water based computer interfaces.”

One practical application for the concept which the team suggests is this: when the demonstration video ends, somebody sends a sketch from their phone to their bathroom mirror at home – which then draws exactly the same pattern using nothing but the condensation on that mirror.