Laboratoire d'Informatique de Grenoble Équipe Ingénierie de l'Interaction Humain-Machine

Équipe Ingénierie de l'Interaction

PhD position in modular shape-changing interfaces

Context and Scientific field

Shape-changing user interfaces (UI) have emerged as a new way to interact with computers, using dynamic changes in a device’s physical shape for input and output. The prototyping of shape-changing UI, let alone their development, is a consensual grand challenge in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community [Alexander et al. 2018]. The objective of the PhD is to study programmable matter as a new way to implement shape-changing user interfaces. Programmable matter is defined here as a modular robot composed of a huge number of mm-scale, stand-alone, spherical and detachable robots that can rearrange themselves in the 3D space, allowing for as many shapes as play-doh.
The research hypothesis is that programmable matter can overcome the drawbacks of current implementations of shape-changing interfaces such as pneumatic actuation [Yao et al. 2013], rod-based displays [Robinson et al. 2016] and mechanical structures [Kim et al. 2018a]. These solutions do not allow the modularity or the porosity of the interface [Kim et al. 2018b]. On the contrary, programmable matter allows reaching these shapes. While previous work in HCI has introduced modular robotics, it has been limited to 2D display made of mobile robots moving on a table [Le Goc et al. 2016]. To reach the objective, the plan is to rely on a user-centered methodology, around two main tasks: interaction techniques and software architecture.

PhD topic

The PhD student will work on interaction techniques leveraging the modularity and/or porosity of the interface, and their development in distributed UIs.
Interaction techniques
At a high level of abstraction, the candidate will identify, through scenarios of the related studies on shape-changing interfaces, the new interaction possibilities enabled by dynamically reconfigurable interfaces (e.g., merging or breaking groups of physical modules). The proposed interaction techniques will be prototyped using a new UI architecture.
Software architecture
At a low level of abstraction, the goal is to layout the foundations of UI architectures suited for molecular shape-changing interfaces. The dispatch of users’ events is currently centralized. The research approach, in close collaboration with roboticists, consists of first identifying and gathering the problems and constraints that would impact the development of applications using standard UI approach. These observations will then be used, to assess how drastically our current representation of application architecture has to change and to propose adequate solutions. Interaction techniques will serve to assess how these would impact UI architecture and inform the proposed solutions.



We seek candidates with profound interest in Human-Computer Interaction, strong motivation, and creativity. A successful candidate:

Curiosity toward statistics and fabrication are not mandatory, but are a plus.


We start reviewing applications in May 2022, but applications will be considered until the position is filled.
Applicants should apply on the CNRS website


  1. Alix Goguey, Cameron Steer, Andrés Lucero, Laurence Nigay, Deepak Sahoo, et al. PickCells: A Physically Reconfigurable Cell-composed Touchscreen. 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2019, Glasgow, United Kingdom. pp.273, doi: 10.1145/3290605.3300503.

  2. Laura Pruszko, Céline Coutrix, Yann Laurillau, Benoît Piranda, and Julien Bourgeois. Molecular HCI: Structuring the Cross-disciplinary Space of Modular Shape-changing User Interfaces. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 5(211):1–33, 2021a. doi: 10.1145/3461733.

  3. Laura Pruszko, Yann Laurillau, Benoît Piranda, Julien Bourgeois, and Céline Coutrix. Impact of the Size of Modules on Target Acquisition and Pursuit for Future Modular Shape-changing Physical User Interfaces. In Proceedings of the 2021 International Conference on Multimodal Interaction (ICMI ’21), Montréal, Canada, October 2021b. doi: 10.1145/3462244.3479936.

  4. Alexander, et al. 2018. Grand Challenges in Shape-Changing Interface Research. ACM CHI 2018.

  5. Le Goc, et al. 2016. Zooids: Building Blocks for Swarm User Interfaces. ACM UIST 2016.

  6. Kim, Coutrix, and Roudaut. 2018. KnobSlider: Design of a Shape-Changing UI for Parameter Control. ACM CHI 2018.

  7. Kim, Coutrix, et al. 2018. Morphees+: Studying Everyday Reconfigurable Objects for the Design and Taxonomy of Reconfigurable UIs. ACM CHI 2018.

  8. Robinson, Coutrix, et al. 2016. Emergeables: Deformable Displays for Continuous Eyes-Free Mobile Interaction. ACM CHI 2016.

  9. Yao, et al. 2013. PneUI: pneumatically actuated soft composite materials for shape changing interfaces. ACM UIST 2013.

Ce travail s'effectuera dans le cadre du projet MolecUI.


Céline Coutrix, Alix Goguey