Shakin’ table wont spill the beans

Office employees who lost the will to live when ‘tidy desk’ policies were introduced may take heed from US scientists who have developed a table that tidies itself at the touch of a mouse.

Dan Reznick, a post-graduate student of computer science at the University of California, has developed the Universal Planar Manipulator that, one day, could lead to a host of uses including self-service bars in pubs and self-setting tables in restaurants.

The table is co-ordinated by algorithms that indicate how the table should be shaken to move an object to a particular position. Presiding over the table is a camera that records the position of all the objects on the table so that the control system can work out how close they are to their desired destination.

The table also has a graphic interface that shows what is on the table and allows manipulation of the objects by the click of a mouse. The technology is said to be so precise, it can move several objects while leaving others in exactly the same position.

The table is shaken using motors positioned on adjacent sides of the table, which move it in one of two directions. The motors shake the table through small rods that touch it near three of its four corners; and it can shuffle the objects placed on it by combining low-frequency vibrations.

According Reznick, the table is moved out from underneath the objects and, through friction, move them a short distance from their initial position. By repeating this many times a second, focusing on a different object every time, the table is able to move separate objects in different directions.

This technology, part of a wider field known as distributed manipulation – which looks into the effects motion on objects through a large number of points of contact – is being explored for a number of applications, including microchip processing.