It’s called “ReFlex,” and it’s built to bend and vibrate, giving users a better sense of a third dimension on their phones as they read, get directions, or play games.
Researchers from the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Canada revealed their lightweight prototype at the Tangible Embedded and Embodied Interaction conference in The Netherlands on Wednesday.
With a bendable phone, readers could quickly thumb through books, feeling for highlighted passages or “dog eared” pages. The bendy phone could also help drivers keep their eyes on the road, making it possible to “feel” turn-by-turn directions. And on games like Angry Birds, players could bend their screens to stretch out a slingshot with vibrations that make the phone feel like a ricocheting rubber band.
But perhaps the most exciting feature of the new bendy prototype is the fact that it is essentially shatterproof.
The big secret behind a phone that’s more durable and lightweight? The screen is plastic, not glass. The tradeoff could be a deal-breaker in a smartphone industry dominated by glass screens.
The phone uses off-the-shelf parts, which means a leap to market wouldn’t be a huge jump. Professor Roel Vertegaal, who led the team behind the phone, says it is technology twelve years in the making.
“The phone is mass produceable as it is today,” Vertegaal says.
But Vertegaal, whose academic research has been sponsored by the Canadian government and Canadian touch tech company Immersion Corporation, isn’t going to build a consumer phone. That, he says, he’ll leave it up to the “Samsung’s and the LG’s of the world.” (He estimates it could take another three to five years to bring the tech to market.)