Two new inventions released by Human Media Lab

HoloFlex and MagicWand join this year’s innovations

Image supplied by: Supplied by Human Media Lab
The HoloFlex added to the ReFlex

Douglas Library has long been hailed as the “Harry Potter” room on campus: however, the Human Media Lab (HML) just took Queen’s one step further, with moving photographs and magic wands.

On May 5, the HML announced the development of two new devices: the MagicWand and the HoloFlex.

The MagicWand is the world’s first handheld device with a user interface in the shape of a cylinder, which goes around 340 degrees with a flat edge. 

The MagicWand device created by the Human Media Lab. 

The wand can simulate physical objects or avatars, similar to a cylindrical game console. 

However, Roel Vertegaal, director of the HML, says that there are more applications of the technology than just for video games. The MagicWand can work as a phone, an everyday tool, or even a lava lamp.

The second invention, the HoloFlex, is a holographic screen added to the design of the ReFlex, a flexible smartphone announced this February.

A second demonstration of the HoloFlex.

The bendable feature of the smartphone enables a user to edit the width, length and height of the holographs. A user only has to press down on the device to manipulate and edit objects in the third dimension.   

Vertegaal estimates that the ReFlex will be on the market in two to three years, while he expects that it will take another ten years for the HoloFlex to emerge.

Vertegaal’s market predictions have held true in the past. According to a HML video from 2011, an earlier product called the PaperPhone was expected be on the market in five years.

Five years later, Vertegaal told The Journal that this product is currently in the steps of “final instantiation”.  

Discussing his work in the HML, Vergtegaal explained that their mandate is to create disruptive technologies, designed to render current technologies out of date. 

Despite this focus on innovation, Vertegaal dismissed the notion that humanity is headed towards a future in which humans will merge with machines. 

He says that we’re “doing the exact opposite.”

Vertegaal believes that technology should adapt to human needs. Along with Organic User Interfaces (OUI) — flexible, bendable, adaptable technologies — we should be able to interact with our environment through touch, without the door saying “push” or “pull”.  

This responsiveness is referred to as a haptic system. OUIs and haptic systems form the basis of Vertegaal’s underlying goal, which is to design reality-changing technologies. 

Vertegaal explained that design and technology should be intertwined.  An example of this synthesis would be a coffee cup that can sense the type of java served.  Devices with curved and flexible screens help to accomplish this goal.

Vertegaal is not alone in his endeavour to mould technology to the human form. Researchers from the HML, recently returned from the ACM CHI 2016 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in San Jose, California, where they revealed their two new inventions.

Vertegaal said that it was a “fantastic, amazing experience. We did really well as a group, [and] people took notice”.   

Vertegaal said that his students are lucky to be able to work on prototypes of these products, which big companies like Apple will release years down the line.


Computing, HoloFlex, Human Media Lab, MagicWand

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