ZeroN The Levitating Orb Interface

ZeroN is a unique user interface design created by a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab, Jinha Lee, with the help of Rehmi Post and Hiroshi Ishii. The device uses computer-controlled magnetic levitation to both control and track the movement of the sphere.


(ZeroN levitating orb interface)

ZeroN is a new physical/digital interaction element that can be levitated and moved freely by computer in a three dimensional space. Both the computer and people can move the ZeroN simultaneously. In doing so, people and computers can physically interact with one another in 3D space. Users are invited to place or move the ZeroN just as they can place any other objects on surfaces. Once levitated, ZeroN's behavior can be digitally programmed. For example, users can place the sun above physical objects to cast digital shadows, or place a planet that will start revolving based on simulated physical conditions...

To realize such interactions, we developed a magnetic control system that can levitate and actuate a permanent magnet in a pre- defined 3D volume. This is combined with an optical tracking and display system that projects images on the levitating object. Conventional levitation is for levitating an object at one point. In ZeroN Project, users can move a levitated object to anywhere in a predefined 3D space and leave it there without dropping it since the system constantly readjusts both magnetically and mechanically. It is about turning 3D space into levitating space.

In Night of the Saucers, the 1971 novel by Eando Binder, the flying saucers have similar controls. The pilot controls the saucer with a sphere "joystick" that looks like a sphere floating above a plate. The pilot grasps the sphere with the hand; moving the sphere in any direction makes the saucer move in the same direction. Squeezing the sphere controls the speed of the saucer.

From ZeroN via The Creators Project. Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for the tip and the reference.

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