This paper presents a new concept of a desktop tangible shape display for virtual surface rendering. The proposed system is able to represent in the real environment the shape of a digital model of a product, which can be explored naturally through a free-hand interaction. Aim of the shape display is to allow product designers to explore the rendered surface through a continuous touch of curves lying on the product shape. Ideally, the designer selects curves, which can be considered as style features of the shape, on the shape surface, and evaluates the aesthetic quality of these curves by manual exploration. In order to physically represent these selected curves, a flexible surface is modelled by means of servo-actuated modules controlling a physical deforming strip. The behaviour of the strip is controlled by acting on the position and rotations of a discrete number of control sectors. Each control sector is controlled by a module, which is based on an absolute positioning approach and equipped with five degrees of freedom. The developed system is able to manage the elastic behaviour of the strip in terms of bending, twisting and local tangency. The tangency control allows us to manage the local tangency of the strip to the rendered trajectory, thus increasing the accuracy of the representation. Moreover, a preliminary second version of the module is presented, which has been designed so as to allow the control sectors to slide on the strip. Thanks to this feature, it will be possible to place the control sector in a given point of the trajectory, such as point of maximum, point of minimum or inflection points. The device is designed to be portable, low cost, modular and high performing in terms of types of shapes that can be represented. A prototype equipped with three modules has been developed in order to evaluate the usability and the performances of the display.

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