Shape-shifting mobile devices

April 30, 2013

This prototype phone screen can bend to provide privacy when needed (credit: University of Bristol)

Prototype mobile devices that can change shape on-demand and lead to high “shape resolution” devices of the future.were presented on Monday at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris.

In the presentation, Dr. Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian, from the University of Bristol‘s Department of Computer Science used shape resolution to compare six prototypes their team has built using the latest technologies in shape changing material, such as shape memory alloy and electroactive polymer.

What are “Morphees”?

One concept devices they presented, Morphees are self-actuated flexible mobile devices that can change shape on-demand to better fit the many services they are likely to support (see video).

They believe Morphees will be the next generation of mobile devices, where users can download applications that embed a specific form factor — for instance, a “stress ball app” that collapses the device in on itself or a “game app” that makes it adopt a console-like shape.

“The interesting thing about our work is that we are a step towards enabling our mobile devices to change shape on-demand,” said Roudaut, Research Assistant in the Department of Computer Science’s Bristol Interaction and Graphics group. “Imagine downloading a game app and the mobile phone would then shape-shift into a console-like shape in order to help the device to be grasped properly. The device could also transform into a sphere to serve as a stress ball, or bend itself to hide the screen when a password is being typed so passers-by can’t see private information.”

In the future the team hope to build higher-shape-resolution Morphees by investigating the flexibility of materials. They are also interested in exploring other kinds of deformations that the prototypes did not explore, such as porosity and stretchability.