Member collaboration: Sensetable


Webb Chappell 2003

Webb Chappell

Taking the guesswork out of “what if” scenarios.


Ichiro Kase, Senior Vice President, NTT Comware Corporation

Hiroshi Ishii, Head of the Tangible Media group, MIT Media Lab


MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA); NTT Comware Corporation (Tokyo, Japan)


Media Lab member NTT Comware wanted an intuitive, interactive means to help both employees and customers explore the tradeoffs and effects of complex business decisions.


Building on the Lab’s Sensetable platform, visiting researchers from NTT Comware developed the Tangible IP Network Designer and Tangible Business Process Analyzer, in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media research group.


The Tangible IP Network Designer and the Tangible Business Process Analyzer operate on the Sensetable platform, which lets users interact physically with computer network simulations to take the guesswork out of “what if” scenarios, and visualize changes. Sensetable lets the user explore how one—or several—changes will affect a complex system by projecting graphic representations of those changes directly onto a tabletop surface. 

Small, wireless tokens are tracked electromagnetically as the user moves them across the projected image on the table. When a token comes close to an “information point,” it becomes “bound” to that point, as though plugged into a socket, and can be used to change the information represented. The system then displays the “ripple effect” of that change across the entire representation. And because the table is not tied to any particular software, it can be used for a variety of applications—in a “much more engaging way than looking at spreadsheets or PowerPoint slides,” says Media Lab Professor Hiroshi Ishii. 

NTT Comware’s Tangible IP Network Designer lets users explore how changing variables such as link rate, cost, or client-response time factor into a network’s efficiency and profitability. NTT Comware’s Ichiro Kase says it should be perfect for helping both senior executives and customers explore complex options: “It allows those who are not involved in the daily task of engineering modeling to immediately grasp the tradeoffs involved in system changes.” Their second system, Tangible Business Process Analyzer, is a collaborative tool for business process re-engineering, allowing multiple users to directly model workflow and control parameters (such as the size of the work force) using physical tokens. Users can examine hypotheses, discover problems, and visualize the effects of a solution. Both systems were commercialized in 2004.

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