By Tushna Commissariat
Just think how handy it would be if your mobile phone could transform into different shapes depending on what you are using it for – nice and compact if you want to, say, securely enter a password in a public space or a broad console when playing a video game. That vision has moved one step closer to reality thanks to a prototype ultra-flexible mobile device unveiled yesterday by a group of researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Bristol University in the UK.
Dubbed “Morphees” by the team, the new “self-actuated flexible mobile devices”, developed by Anne Roudaut and Sriram Subramanian, are based on six different strategies, including two high-fidelity prototypes using “shape memory alloys” (SMAs). One of the prototypes is built with wooden tiles actuated with thin SMA wires that could project and track images. The other is a flexible touchscreen, that again includes the SMA wires that the researchers “educated (forged) to remember the shape we needed”, according to the paper, which is available here.
The 10 features that contribute towards the “shape resolution” include area, granularity, curvature, stretchability and strength. The researchers say that unlike conventional display or touch resolution, having a high shape resolution is not about maximizing each of these 10 features but rather maximizing their possible range of values.
“The interesting thing about our work is that we have taken a step towards enabling our mobile devices to change shape on-demand…the device could 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,” says Roudaut.