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Shape-shifting mobile devices

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires

Press release issued: 29 April 2013

Prototype mobile devices that can change shape on-demand will be unveiled today [Monday 29 April] by academics in the University’s Department of Computer Science and could lay down the foundation for creating high shape resolution devices of the future.

The research paper, to be presented at one of the world’s most important conferences on human-computer interfaces, will introduce the term ‘shape resolution’ and its ten features, to describe the resolution of an interactive device: in addition to display and touch resolution. 

The research, led by Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, have used ‘shape resolution’ to compare the resolution of six prototypes the team have built using the latest technologies in shape changing material, such as shape memory alloy and electro active polymer.

One example of a device is the team’s concept of Morphees, self-actuated flexible mobile devices that can change shape on-demand to better fit the many services they are likely to support.

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

Dr Anne Roudaut, Research Assistant in the Department of Computer Science’s Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, said: “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. 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.”

By comparing the shape resolution of their prototypes, the researchers have created insights to help designers towards creating high shape resolution Morphees.

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.

A video of Morphees is available on YouTube.

Paper: Morphees: Toward high “shape resolution” in self-actuated flexible mobile devices, Anne Roudaut, Abhijit Karnik, Sriram Subramanian, ACM CHI 2013, Saturday 27 April to Thursday 2 May 2013, Paris, France.


Further information

This work has been supported by the EC within the 7th framework programme through the FET Open scheme under grant agreement no. 309191.

About the Bristol Interaction and Graphics

The Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG), based in the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, is united by a common interest in creative interdisciplinarity. BIG acts as a hub for collaboration between social scientists, artists, scientists and engineers to combine efficient and aesthetic design. The group is particularly interested in areas which couple the design of devices with deployment and evaluation in public settings. Members of the group have expertise in research areas spanning human-computer interaction, visual and tactile perception, imaging, visualisation and computer-supported collaboration.

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