Venous Materials: Towards interactive, fluidic mechanisms

By Hila Mor, Yu Tianyu, Ken Nakagaki, Benjamin Harvey Miller, Yichen Jia, Hiroshi Ishii

The Venous Materials project envisions a new way to design dynamic tangible interactions using fluidic structures. We are inspired by venous structures that are ubiquitous throughout nature and inside the human body. By changing colors, veins can inform us of internal and external physical conditions. For example, veins in leaves transmit pigments that drive color change, which informs us of the leaf’s internal condition as well as which season it is. And when we press firmly on a button, the tip of our finger changes its color—this subtle color change can be used as an indicator of the amount of applied pressure.

Similarly, the displayed flow pattern and color change of the fluidic channels within Venous Materials inform the users of the motion and physical force that’s applied on the material. The users can interact with Venous Materials by deforming or applying pressure on the material, which drives the fluid flow within the internal channels to visualize the dynamic responsive display. Therefore, Venous Materials simultaneously functions as a sensor and display of tangible information. 

While computer chips and electronics usually require rigid and bulky components, Venous Materials is a soft and self-contained mechanism that utilizes the motion of daily activities as its energy source. Through research with microfluidics technology, we developed an approach for designing, simulating, and prototyping fluidic interactive sensors that can be embedded in, or attached to, any object. 

We prototyped potential applications to Venous Materials integrate in everyday scenarios. For example, embedding it in clothing can help visualize on-body motion, pressure, and balance, while attaching it to objects can enrich learning activities, augment dynamic graphics, and indicate conditions of package delivery content. 

Venous Materials is a vision that puts forward a new paradigm in the field of human-computer interaction—the first step towards the integration of interactive fluidic mechanisms as tangible user interfaces. We hope our work will inspire researchers, designers, and artists by laying down a foundation for the growth of additional research within the realm of Venous Materials as interactive material design.

To realize Venous Materials, we created a wide design space that shows the dynamic display capabilities, user affordances, and aesthetics opportunities using different geometries, fluidic colors, and structures.

“Material memory’’: One of the promising achievements of Venous Materials is its ability to capture the level of the applied pressure or impact as a memory in the material by trapping droplets or mixing colors in an irreversible way.

Since the understanding and prediction of the fluidic behavior in Venous Materials is not straightforward to plan, we developed a design and simulation tool. This computational tool allows designers and researchers to plan and design the visual outcome according to the applied deformation input.


Venous Materials opens up exciting potential use cases to embed dynamic analog interactions in everyday objects, such as in wearables to visualize on-body motion, pressure, and body balance for rehabilitation or dance lessons. Attached to objects such as a paintbrush or piano keys, it can be applied for actions that involve fine motor skills and learning activities.  

In everyday life, everywhere around us, we use a lot of graphics: texts, signs, lines, and graphs that represent dynamic information. Yet, they are static—what if we could use Venous Materials to make these graphics dance?

In this application, Venous Materials engages the user by tangibly making information flow. This interactive experience can be embedded in textbooks: as an example, we use the sequential nature of the flow to display the stroke order of writing a Chinese character in a textbook, which is important when learning Chinese calligraphy. Here we are also visualizing graph progress where users can dynamically choose and compare data. 

Wearable Venous Materials can be used to raise the user’s awareness of their body balance and motion for rehabilitation or dance lessons. We designed the shoe prototype to visualize the pressure applied on the sole of the shoe, while the display is located on the top of the shoe. 

Learning new activities often involves granular understanding of the motion or pressure that one should apply on objects, such as playing the piano or painting. Venous Materials can display the dynamic applied pressure during the learning process. 

For the packaging industry, which often requires cheap and simple analog indicators, Venous Materials has great potential for both capturing pressure information on the package and for transmitting content condition information from the inside of the package to the outside. 

As the lead of the project, I have always been in awe of the way fluid flows—its chaotic dynamics and highly sensitive responsiveness has always been fascinating to me. When I realized that, by controlling the flow, I can design new experiences and interactions, I started researching the flow of water through different technologies, materials, and functionalities, as you can see in my previous works.