Magnetic Bricks Create Touchscreen Animations You Can Play With [Video]

Design & Architecture

A new interaction system for touchscreen devices goes beyond gestures.

Rachel Pincus
  • 3 april 2014

With all the positive changes that touchscreen devices have brought to our everyday lives, we don’t often think about the limitations of their design. However, smartphones and tablets are very much adapted to the human hand, and until recently, their ability to respond to even multiple fingers was limited. Though this works well for everyday tasks like checking email or playing games, it makes sense that intrepid designers are continually searching for new modes of interaction. Switching habits, after all, unlocks new types of creativity with our digital companions, whose potential is far from having been reached.

With GaussBricks, enterprising users can create real analogs for virtual objects, such as pong paddles or springs, or even animate their own creatures in real time.


Developed by researchers at National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica, GaussBricks are named after Friedrich Gauss, the German scientist who named the unit of measurement for magnetic flux. They work by interacting with a grid of sensors attached to the back of a tablet that track the magnetic field around each jointed brick as it touches or approaches the screen. An algorithm recreates and displays the bricks in digital form.

In the rush to make everything intangible, the creators of GaussBricks believe that we’ve forgotten the satisfying feeling and creative possibilities of tactile feedback. “We live in a physical world where we grasp physical things,” developer Rong-Hao Liang told the New Scientist. He believes the bricks could have a variety of educational or therapeutic uses, and hopes that others will see the project as a springboard toward other creative endeavors. “We are trying to make the project open source,” he added. “We hope that other engineers and designers will come up with new uses for the technology to bring it beyond the lab and make a real impact.”

GaussBricks will make their debut at CHI 2014 in Toronto, a festival for human-computer interaction. Check out how they work below:

New Scientist, Discovery News

+Electronics & Gadgets
+Interaction Design
+Touchscreen Display

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