An anonymous reader writes: It's not sci-fi, but 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 research 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."