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Intel Envisions Shape-Shifting Smartphones 79

An anonymous reader writes "It's not sci-fi, but rather advanced robotics research which is leading Intel to envision shape-shifting smartphones. 'Imagine what you would do with this material,' says Jason Campbell, a senior researcher at Intel's Pittsburgh Lab who's working in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. 'If you want to carry the device, you'd make it as small as possible by making it pack itself as densely as possible. When you go to surf the Web, you're going to make it big.' The material being studied is transparent silicon-dioxide hemispheres, which can roll around each other under electrical control to create different shapes. The lab has built 6-inch long actuators, which it's working to reduce to 1-mm tube-sized prototypes. When will we see a shape-shifting phone? 'In terms of me being able to buy it, that's a difficult forecasting problem, because I have to guess about manufacturing costs,' Campbell said. 'I won't do that. But we hope the science will be proved out in three to five years.'"
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Intel Envisions Shape-Shifting Smartphones

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  • ringtone (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:04AM (#27120689)
    Be sure to set your ringtone to that Transformers sound.
  • Ooops! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:08AM (#27120715)

    Hope it has keylocking features... I wouldn't like to have to explain a sudden "bulge" in my pants...

    On the other hand "is that an email, or are you just happy to see me?"

    • Either that or you can finally have an excuse for a non-convenient boner. It's my PHONE! Really!

  • ... why can't they get it to change shape based on how you're using it?
    • by JustNilt (984644)

      You didn't watch the vid .... NM. I almost forgot where I was f.or a moment.

      In the video, Jason Campbell said they hope to have it changed based on application. I'd presume that would indicate the shape is dictated by what program you're using or, probably at first, by mode buttons of some sort.

      • by msoori (614781)
        Hmmm... how would it know I intend to use it as a web browser or a phone when I pull it out of my pocket in the compacted form? I guess it would have to be able to read the mind too.
        • by lessthan (977374)
          You'd push the phone button and it would become a phone. You'd push the browser button and it would become a web browser.
      • by ElBorba (221626)

        He's not a developer, he doesn't even work on cell phones. When he said "application" he's thinking of "cell phones" as an application for the material they're designing. I, on the other hand, am thinking of "shape-shifting robotic beer can" as an application.

        Don't forget where you are...

        ...Oy, I see your point.

  • 'I won't do that. But we hope the science will be proved out in three to five years.'

    I think that's an overly optimistic figure and I wish he would have commented on the date it would hit shelves as it's likely many decades into the future.

    I'm probably captain obvious for saying this but as the complexity of our inventions reaches new highs (and requires more teams of people than just inventor-geniuses) it may increase the amount of time between inventing and actually marketing the product.

    You may be able to argue that this has always been a long time with people like Charles Babbage or Nikola Tesla but I suspect it's going to get to the point where a lab researcher invents a way of doing something that does not hit everyday usage until well after his/her death. The ability to cheaply fabricate a device may be a bigger feat than development of the device. I seem to recall from some book (Three Cups of Tea?) that a man who worked on fabrication of computer chips & boards thought of a novel way to accomplish the task when he was in his shower and noticed how water ran off his skin. He somehow applied this to making computer boards more cheaply and effectively ... and subsequently became very very rich (patents). A utilitarian might argue that this is the way it should be.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      That's arguably already true. For example, the earliest ancestors of the automobile were first created in 1771. But the first production car didn't roll off the line until 1901, and were not mass produced cheaply until 1908.

    • A counterpoint is that Intel is a world leader in high tech manufacturing, and routinely builds end-to-end nanoscale high volume manufacturing processes AND factories, constantly. Like every other year. Innovations can be scaled pretty quickly in that environment.
      • by Nick Ives (317)

        But all Intel is doing is refining a known process. A new technology like this is more like the initial invention of printing integrated circuits using lithography where all the real world implications were unknown.

  • long time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gravesb (967413) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:12AM (#27120767) Homepage
    Science proved out in 3-5 years. Then how long to get manufacturing to commercial dependability and costs? Once it is on the market, how long until it is more than a high priced novelty? And, the most important question, will battery technology be good enough to power a shape shifting phone for a day or two?
    • will battery technology be good enough

      It could well keep up. On the other hand, if the current trend is any indication, we'll be happy to keep it on for a single hour.

      My old cell can run for a week - my new one complains after a day.

    • by B3ryllium (571199)

      Not if it's a shape-shifting iPhone ....

    • ...And, the most important question, will battery technology be good enough to power a shape shifting phone for a day or two?

      No worries, just have it shape-shift into a hand crank

  • This is surely a fantastic development. Being able to use your cell-phone as an inflatable life-raft.

    How vunerable would these materials be against other forms of magnetism in the field. Would it collapse on EMP pulses ?

    What can you think of ....

    • ... here's your new smart phone for this mission. Now, if you press this button it sends us a GPS signal so that we know exactly where you are. This button activates the camera, this button activates the sound recorder, and this button makes it shapeshift into a particularly nasty little knife. I'm sure you'll find excellent uses for them all.
      • ...and if you want to actually make a call, this button turns on the GPS system that shows you the direction and distance to the nearest public payphone.
  • Now with a stimulating new vibrate function
  • ... they got this transforming technology from a large robot that was discovered in the arctic circle many years ago.
  • Why settle for a boring old phone when you can have a shapeshifter!?!? It's a phone, a music player, a car and a sexbot!

  • Will I be able to use this during the full moon? Or will I be filled with unbridled rage as I can't control the shape of the phone?

  • by bryan1945 (301828) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:35AM (#27121025) Journal

    Sex toys.

  • If this technology was so world changing, then why would they be talking about it at such an early stage? Because some engineer somewhere realizes that the technology will never work...

    What the video clearly demonstrates to me is that Intel is now clearly run by marketing people rather than solid engineering as it once was. Meaning, why would you had one of your "research" people spending time talking about some "pie in the sky" stuff instead of actually doing something?

  • What you don't have your flying car and wrist video phone?
  • by Khopesh (112447) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:43AM (#27121129) Homepage Journal

    Nokia's Morph Concept [] was announced in February 2008, over a year ago.

    The video on that site, which has illustrated use-case demos (unlike the Intel video) is also available through youtube for those of you who want direct access:

    YouTube - Nokia Morph Concept [].
    Amazing stuff.

    • There are also (more limited) shape-changing phones in development that don't require nanotech. The Nokia 888 [] (which I just discovered by spending too much time on YouTube after looking up the Morph) is merely a flexible LCD on a permissive backing with an elastic. Probably viable (though not economic) within a few years, unlike nanotech, which might be viable on an extra-large demo scale within 3-5 years (as according to the Intel developer in TFA).

      As with my previous post, I'm including a youtube vide

    • by caladine (1290184)
      I wish I could mod the parent up. This is the first thing that came to mind when I read this article.
    • While watching that video I kept thinking that the evil race car drivers from the Ah-ha's "Take on Me" music video were gonna creep up behind the woman and whack her on the head with a wrench and steal her Morph-a-phone.
    • Sensing

      Morph enables us to observe our local environment.

      Morph can detect specific chemical compounds in the air.

      Morph can tell if you're hungry, and make you pancakes in the morning.

      Morph knows what kind of porn you like.

      Nanoscale Ass
  • IOW, marbles cut in half. Pyrex cookware is (was?) made from SiO2.
  • Only takes calls from flunkies and paranoids.

  • The SciFi Channel has already envisioned the same thing, except in their case it was an SUV that collapses small enough to carry in your purse.

  • Am I the only one concerned about putting something in my ear with the potential to expand to the size of a laptop?

    That has bad day written all over it.

  • Is this some bullshit attempt by Intel at a viral marketing campaign? There is ZERO science behind this and the other "shape-shifting" video they released. Glass spheres manipulated by electric fields? What? That makes no sense at all.

    First the guy waves some rather mundane-looking actuators in front of the camera like they're somehow related to this idea. Then he wows the audience by holding up two different blocks of material and making the controversial statement that each has the same amount of mat

  • All we need now is a little A.I. and alot of luck.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Monday March 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#27123079) Journal

    > It's not sci-fi, but rather advanced robotics research which is leading Intel
    > to envision shape-shifting smartphones

    It's embarassing enough to be in a business meeting and have your brother call to the forgotten custom ringtone of "I Like Big Butts".

    Now you've gotta worry about the phone turning into a penis or vagina shape?

  • It's a Nokia E90 [] It goes from having a 240x320 display when being a phone to 800x352 with a keyboard when web surfing.

    It uses this awesome technology called a "hinge".

  • DeceptiPhone, you must destroy Optimus Prime or else!
  • This will be great stuff, until the big three get ahold of it and disable the "internet shape profile" and the "flip phone shape profile", and the "portable to another technically identical network shape profile"
  • I for one welcome our new mini-Decepticon masters.

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