Wired highlights a new device, still in prototype form, created for the thesis project of designer-engineer Saurabh Datta of Copenhagen's Institute of Interaction Design. It aims to build muscle memory to help the artistically challenged learn to draw, or even play the piano.
Datta created a series of devices that teach people simple tasks like tapping a piano key or drawing basic shapes by using forced haptic feedback. In other words, you don't control Datta's machines, they control you.
Datta, a civil engineer by trade, began the project as a way to investigate how he could learn to play the piano with the help of a machine. He wondered: If we gave more agency to the machines in our lives, could they help us improve certain skills by building muscle memory? Teacher, for example, is a machine that coaches you to draw by forcing your hand to perform certain motions. The thinking goes, repeat the task enough times and eventually your hand will remember how to do it on its own.
His earlier Forced Finger project similarly used forced haptic feedback to control his index finger; a robotic lever raises and lowers the finger to hit certain keys on a piano. In both cases the machine uses your extremity like an inanimate tool rather than the complex and capable mechanism that it is.
Datta (a self-described "lifelong tinkerer") found that it's not easy to force humans to give over complete control to the machine, though the machine was able to "learn" about human movement as the experiments continued, and make more "human-centered decisions."
And while there's something unsettling about just letting a machine do the work for you (as anyone who spent years toiling over piano lessons can attest), there's more to it than that. As Wired points out: "Experiments like Datta's can help us understand the nuances of the physical relationship between human and machine."