Implementing outputs from material science, specifically morphing materials and structures, into computer science. I investigate the use of elastomers, auxetics, deployable structures (i.e. foldable, rollable and inflatable), anisotropy, multi-stability and shape-memory materials used in engineering fields such as aerospace, and introduce these into Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) for the development of shape-changing interfaces.
HCI meets Material Science: A Literature Review of Morphing Materials for the Design of Shape-Changing Interfaces
With the proliferation of flexible displays and the advances in smart materials, it is now possible to create interactive devices that are not only flexible but can reconfigure into any shape on demand. Several Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and robotics researchers have started designing, prototyping and evaluating shape-changing devices, realising, however, that this vision still requires many engineering challenges to be addressed. On the material science front, we need break- throughs in stable and accessible materials to create novel, proof-of-concept devices. On the interactive devices side, we require a deeper appreciation for the material properties and an understanding of how exploiting material properties can provide affordances that unleash the human interactive potential. While these challenges are interesting for the respective research fields, we believe that the true power of shape-changing devices can be magnified by bringing together these communities. In this paper we therefore present a review of advances made in shape-changing materials and discuss their applications within an HCI context.
Bridging the Gap Between Material Science and Human-Computer Interaction
Many interactive devices such as laptops and mobile phones currently have static, planar shapes that are arguably not particularly adapted to the user. Recent developments in display and material technologies have enabled explorations into morphing devices that can provide improved affordances for human interaction. From interactive spherical displays, to mobile phones that bend to notify a user of an incoming call, to pneumatic interfaces that expand to become exoskeletons or couches, there are many recent examples of shaped interface design. This transition from flat, planar shapes to morphing interfaces requires human-computer interaction (HCI) practitioners to learn about and adapt the advances made in material science and quickly apply them to shaped devices in an accessible manner.
The implementation of shape-adaptive interactive systems within HCI, however, is still far from having been achieved. The tools and methods that could have a significant impact on developing such systems tend to be confined to their industries (e.g., automotive or aerospace), are expensive, and are designed to support large-scale systems, making them inaccessible to researchers who have little to no expertise in material engineering. These industries’ approach to product design also tends to differ in some obvious ways from that of HCI. For example, manufacturability is of significant importance to material engineers, with products often going through many design and development cycles with stringent requirements before entering production. This can often span years, or even decades. In contrast, HCI researchers have much shorter time frames to develop low-fidelity proof-of-concept prototypes, where human interaction, both physical and those involving cognition and perception, require particular consideration. This difference in approach and requirements is a significant factor in the disparity between these fields. A key question remains: How can the methods and processes in material science be harnessed by HCI researchers?
Here we discuss how the evolving relationship between HCI and material science can be framed and why synergies between the two fields are critical for the design of shape-changing devices. Our goal is to create a road map for designers who want to learn more about advances in material science and use them for the design of shape-changing interfaces.