David Merrill

siftables music sequencer -- audio engine by Josh Kopin

Siftables can sense their neighbors, allowing applications to utilize topological arrangement

No special sensing surface or cameras are needed

storyboard: a grouping gesture

assembling siftables

exploded view of a single siftable

Imagine overturning a container of nuts and bolts, then looking through the resulting pile for a particular item. Or spreading photographs out on a tabletop and then beginning to sort them into piles. During these activities we interact with large numbers of small objects at the same time, and they utilize all of our fingers and both hands together. We humans are skilled at using our hands in these ways, and can effortlessly sift and sort - focusing on our higher level goals rather than the items themselves.

Siftables aims to enable people to interact with information and media in physical, natural ways that approach interactions with physical objects in our everyday lives. As an interaction platform, Siftables applies technology and methodology from wireless sensor networks to tangible user interfaces. Siftables are independent, compact devices with sensing, graphical display, and wireless communication capabilities. They can be physically manipulated as a group to interact with digital information and media. Siftables can be used to implement any number of gestural interaction languages and HCI applications.

The Siftables interaction platform is a collaboration with Jeevan Kalanithi, of Taco Lab.


D. Merrill, J. Kalanithi and P. Maes. Siftables: Towards Sensor Network User Interfaces. In the Proceedings of the First International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction (TEI'07). February 15-17 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
Press and Awards

7/27/2008: Rethinking display technology innovation economy article (Boston Globe).

7/2008: Siftables recognized with honorable mention by ID Magazine's Student Design Review! (Sept / Oct '08 issue) [click here]

6/2008: Goodbye GUI, Hello TUI (Media Magazine)

3/15/2008: MIT's Siftables let you juggle your data... for real (Engadget)

2008: MIT's Siftables, the Domino-Like Computer (softpedia news)

Credits and thanks

Jeevan Kalanithi - co-inventor, co-developer

Pattie Maes - advisor, brainstormer, supporter

Amit Zoran - case design v3.0

Noah Murphy-Reinhertz - case design v4, fabrication

Paula Aguilera - video production

Josh Kopin - firmware features, interaction sketches, sound engine for music sequencer

Orit Zuckerman, Sajid Sadi - created original 'attention' piece that became 'attentionables' demo

Evan Broder - firmware hacking, including basic flash memory access, OLED, animation, and first 'attentionables' implementation

Laura Harris, Tobe Nwanna, and Rick Mancuso developed new features and applications using Siftables

Drew Shapiro - server design / development

Colleagues in the Ambient Intelligence group and the rest of the MIT Media Lab - thanks for your great enthusiasm and brainstorming