MolecUI is a collaborative grant project funded by The French National Research Agency (grant number ANR-21-CE33-0009), started in February 2022 and for 48 months.

Shape-changing user interfaces are a promising way to interact with computers. MolecUI’s objective 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, and detachable robots that rearrange themselves in the 3D space, allowing the formation of as many shapes as play-doh.

Example of a modular object

MolecUI’s research hypotheses is that programmable matter provides an unprecedented solution for the implementation of shape-changing user interfaces. Programmable matter can overcome the drawbacks of current shape-changing user interfaces implementations such as pneumatic actuation or rod-based displays. On the contrary to previous work, programmable matter allows adding matter to the interface, allows empty areas, provides untethered interface, supports both system and user actuation of the shape, and supports attach- & detach-ability of the modules. MolecUI goes beyond previous work, by studying HCI implemented with stand-alone and attachable/detachable robots that move in 3D.

MolecUI will profoundly impact the way we interact with computers, providing in the long term physical UIs as flexible as current GUI and GUIs as tangible as objects. Future applications are numerous, ranging from tangible controls for interactive visualization, mixing console, control of LED lighting, cockpit or camera control, etc. to personal computers.


Coordinator Céline Coutrix