British researchers, Google design modular shape-shifting mobile devices

May 20, 2016

Cubimorph is an interactive device made of a chain of reconfigurable modules that shape-shifts into any shape that can be made out of a chain of cubes, such as transforming from a mobile phone to a game console. (credit: Anne Roudaut et al./Proceedings of the ICRA 2016)

British researchers and Google have independently developed revolutionary concepts for Lego-like modular interactive mobile devices.

The British team’s design, called Cubimorph, is constructed of a chain of cubes. It has touchscreens on each of the six module faces and uses a hinge-mounted turntable mechanism to self-reconfigure in the user’s hand. One example: a mobile phone that can transform into a console when a user launches a game.

Proof-of-concept prototype of Cubimorph (credit: BIG/University of Bristol)

The research team has developed three prototypes demonstrating key aspects — turntable hinges, embedded touchscreens, and miniaturization.


BIG | Cubimorph: Designing Modular Interactive Devices

The modular interactive design is a step toward the vision of programmable matter, where interactive devices change their shape to meet specific user needs.

The research is led by Anne Roudaut, PhD, from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol and and co-leader of the BIG (Bristol Interaction Group), in collaboration with academics at the Universities of PurdueLancaster and Sussex.

The research was presented last week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).

Google’s Ara

Ara (credit: Google)

Ara, launched at Google’s I/O developer conference, uses a frame that contains all the functionality of a smartphone (CPU, GPU, antennas, sensors, battery, and display) plus six flexible slots for easy swapping of modules. “Slide any Ara module into any slot and it just works,” is the concept. Powering this is Greybus, a new bit of software deep in the Android stack that supports instantaneous connections, power efficiency, and data-transfer rates of up to 11.9 Gbps. The Developer Edition will ship in Fall 2016, with a consumer version in 2017.


Google | Ara: What’s next


Abstract of Cubimorph: Designing Modular Interactive Devices

We introduce Cubimorph, a modular interactive device that accommodates touchscreens on each of the six module faces, and that uses a hinge-mounted turntable mechanism to self-reconfigure in the user’s hand. Cubimorph contributes toward the vision of programmable matter where interactive devices reconfigure in any shape that can be made out of a chain of cubes in order to fit a myriad of functionalities, e.g. a mobile phone shifting into a console when a user launches a game. We present a design rationale that exposes user requirements to consider when designing homogeneous modular interactive devices. We present our Cubimorph mechanical design, three prototypes demonstrating key aspects (turntable hinges, embedded touchscreens and miniaturization), and an adaptation of the probabilistic roadmap algorithm for the reconfiguration.

References:

  • Roudaut, Anne; Krusteva, Diana; McCoy, Mike; Karnik, Abhijit; Ramani, Karthik; Subramanian, Sriram. Cubimorph: Designing Modular Interactive Devices. Proceedings of the ICRA 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (in press)