The project, called Curious Displays, does away with fixed form factor convention and is instead made up of hundreds of half inch autonomous blocks programmed with swarm intelligence.
Tsao said that she set out to answer the question: What is next after the flat screen? Her response led to a novel idea that rolls into one virtual pet, augmented reality, and swarm robotics.
The system is comprised of blocks that move across any physical surface and operate independently of one another, but are aware of the position and role relative to the rest of the system.
That makes it is very fluid in the sense that you can be watching Finding Nemo on one wall, and then the blocks can transition to another location in the room and arrange themselves in a manner to communicate time and location specific information, such as a reminder to water your plant (see video below).
From Tsao's site: "With this awareness, the blocks are able to coordinate with the other blocks to reconfigure their positioning to form larger display surfaces and forms depending on purpose and function. In this way, the blocks become a physical embodiment of digital media, and act as a vehicle for the physical manifestation of what typically exists only in the virtual space of the screen."
Given the operational challenges that Tsao acknowledges (in case the display bots run amok, there's an accompanying remote control with a big red kill button), Curious Displays may never materialize, but this kind of ingenuity could pave the way for related iterations that also combine the technologies used.