Called a “scalable actuated shape display”, this project by Daniel Leithinger, Adam Kumpf, and Hiroshi Ishii of MIT’s Tangible Media Group seems especially suited for displaying terrain.
Relief is an actuated tabletop display, which is able to render and animate three-dimensional shapes with a malleable surface. It allows users to experience and form digital models like geographical terrain in an intuitive manner. The tabletop surface is actuated by an array of 120 motorized pins, which are controlled with a platform built upon open-source hardware and software tools. Each pin can be addressed individually and senses user input like pulling and pushing.
[via the Eyebeam ReBlog]