Floating metal Balls are the coolest computer interface everWe’ve seen some crazy computer interfaces over the years, but this new one might just take the cake. Combining strong, controllable magnetic fields with projectors and metal balls, ZeroN manages to make computing magical again.
The idea is actually quite simple. Take two opposing electromagnets and put them on opposite sides. Make them controllable so you can move things around. Also listen for fluctuations in the field that means that something is moving in the field. Now toss in a metal ball and watch it float.
With the ZeroN, you can move the metal ball around in 3-dimensional space. The machine can then replay that exact motion, scale it up so that the motions are bigger, etc. Both you and the machine can control the ball to move it exactly where you want it.
But the real power of the system comes when you start adding in new elements. In the video below, for example, they demonstrate using markers to signify a planet and the metal ball being the moon. Stick the ball around the planet and it orbits as you would expect. Throw in a second planet and now you have the moon orbiting both. Now use the projector to give both a bit of texture to make them look like planets and you are modelling physics problems on the computer in real space.
This is actually a surprisingly useful technology. They demonstrate it with the metal ball replacing a sun, casting shadows on a virtual world shown on the screens. They use the metal ball to record camera paths for 3D animations.
All of this is achieved using an electromagnet mounted on a moving gantry very similar to what you see on 3D printers and a hall sensor. It’s impressively simple. There’s some serious kinks still to work out, for example the magnetic ball isn’t exactly stable in the air, but as a demonstration it is truly compelling.