In the days of yore, families would gather round the table of an evening and play board games like Monopoly and Risk. With such games moving into the virtual world and now available online - along with much more graphically impressive computer games - even those playing the same game under the same roof can be tucked away in their own corner of the house. An innovative game robot concept out of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) called MoleBot attempts to reverse the trend by providing a physical environment that allows users to physically interact with a virtual game world.
Like an oversized pin impression board that has been laid flat, the MoleBot table is a shape display that consists of an array of around 15,000 small hexagonal pins that slide up and down. The MoleBot itself is a dome-shaped plastic mold separated from the pins by a layer of spandex that reduces friction as it moves. Inside the MoleBot is a magnet that pairs up with a strong neodymium magnet attached to a head that moves along the x- and y-axes. When the MoleBot moves, the pins above it rise up smoothly, giving the impression of a mole moving under the surface of the table. Users can control the MoleBot with a joystick or with hand gestures using a Kinect.
The ability for the MoleBot to move and “pick up” magnetic objects on the surface of the table, or simply push things around, is sure to be fertile ground for young minds to come up with their own games. While creating a new game interface was the initial goal for Professor Lee Woohun’s team from the Department of Industrial Design at KAIST, Lee says he is now looking at applying the technology to different fields, including human-computer interaction, architecture, and even clothing.
Having unveiled the MoleBot at SIGGRAPH in August 2011, the KAIST team recently nabbed the “Gran Prix du Jury” at the Laval Virtual 2012 virtual reality exhibition, making it a very successful showing for the first ever entry from a Korean team at the event.
Here's a video describing the MoleBot table's construction and showing a few of the games that can be played using it.