Morphee Mobile Devices Bend To Your Whim With Shape Resolution
April 29, 2013

Morphee Mobile Devices Bend To Your Whim With Shape Resolution

WATCH VIDEO: [Moving Toward High Shape Resolution]

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

When the iPhone was first released in 2007, one of its best features was the ability to run web applications, becoming a pocketable computer with many different uses. This ability was amplified in 2008 with the introduction of the App Store. This wasn´t only a phone; it was also a browser, a GPS, a camera, a networking tool, etc. It´s been nearly six years since this first iteration, but our desire for one mobile device to become any number of things on our whim has not diminished.

Today, Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian from the University of Bristol´s Department of Computer Science will introduce six prototype devices which can change shape based on the application being used. They´re even coining the term “Shape Resolution,” defining the ways these products can bend and mold to our whims. The team is calling the resulting product “Morphees,” and has written a research paper detailing their methods. This paper will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery´s Computer-Human Interaction conference (CHI) this week in Paris, France.

Each of the six Morphees prototypes can bend in a specific way, each meant to enhance the interaction between human and mobile device. These prototypes are made out of shape changing materials such as memory alloy and electro active polymer. The latter reacts to electronic impulses and snaps into a predetermined shape. The team uses the phrase “Shape Resolution” to explain the different ways these devices can be shaped to perform different tasks.

One of their concepts includes a flat device which can be bent at a seam. In a video (link above), a woman is seen typing in her bank password, then slightly closing the device as a passerby walks near her.

The team has said a device like this could be used to protect personal information. Later in the video the team show off a similar device made with wooden tiles sewn together with shape memory alloy wires. This same wood and wire device is shown off bending and molding in different ways as it responds to touch. In one example, an animation of a flower is displayed on the device. The corners of the device bend upwards as the flower closes inside itself. In another example, a design of interlocking diamonds is shown on the same flat device. As different lines are tapped, that portion of the mobile device reacts and bends upward.

In yet another example a piece of shape memory alloy is seen bending and curling inwards, creating a sort of handheld controller for a mobile video game.

Dr. Roudaut and Professor Subramanian believe that users could one day download apps which would control the device and morph it into a specific shape. For example, the pair mentions a stress ball app -- the user downloads it and instantly the device is transformed into a ball the user can then squeeze and reduce stress and tension.

“The interesting thing about our work is that we are a step towards enabling our mobile devices to change shape on-demand. Imagine downloading a game application on the app-store and that the mobile phone would shape-shift into a console-like shape in order to help the device to be grasped properly,” said Dr. Roudaut in a press statement.

Though the team is showing off some of their more refined prototypes, they are also working on other shape resolutions, including porous and stretchable devices. Dr. Roudaut and Professor Subramanian hope their existing prototypes will inspire designers to begin working with them to create high-resolution Morphee prototypes.