Those sexy Minority Report-style user interfaces where menus float in front of your face seem likely to happen eventually, but we'll still need some sort of stepping stone to get there.

Thumbles might be just the intermediary to do the trick.

Instead of swiping around in the air, Thumbles have you interacting with tactile objects on a tabletop. These are tiny three-wheeled robots steered by a computer. They employ "omniwheels," which make it possible for them to move in any direction without having to turn, so Brooklyn-based Patten Studio imagines these robots as elements of a user interface.

Different software would respond in different ways — spin a robot like you're adjusting a dial and the software might adjust music volume or video color (as demoed below). It's pretty cool — check out how Patten Studio hypothesizes that Thumbles could be used.

While these are still purely hypothetical use cases, it's an impressive display of technology.

They could be used to dispatch emergency vehicles. Or for playing games. Even for editing video — watch as the robots become color dials. Check out the video below for a full demo:

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