Flexible screen tech has been bandied about for about two years now, but for the most part the technology has eluded the final piece of the puzzle that would make it mass-market viable. Once they work out those kinks, the future of bendable devices could be much stranger than you thought. How does a “self-actuated flexible mobile device" that alters its own shape on the fly sound to you? A team of researchers at the University of Bristol and DFKI Saarbrücken are working on such devices and the results of their ideas and work are both impressive and bizarre.

They are calling them Morphees, and they may do a great deal more than just fold open. Here's a quote with a description,

The Morphees proposal [pdf link] is built around the concept of “shape resolution”, as a further measurement of detail precision alongside screen and touch resolution. The result is “Non-Uniform Rational B-splines” (NURBS), a geometric model which has potential for flexing its shape resolution in ten features.

“For instance, when a game is launched, the mobile device morphs into a console-like shape by curling two opposite edges to be better grasped with two hands” Morphees team, University of Bristol and DFKI Saarbrücken

Those NURBS features include changes in closure – how the device folds in on itself – and curvature, along with the granularity of flexing potential and the speed of the device’s responsiveness. Although no one single device which demonstrates all ten of the NURBS has been constructed, the Morphees team has created a pair of prototypes which use dielectric electo-active polymers and shape memory alloys to twist in the user’s hands.

In one case, a flat concept device made up of triangular sections stitched together with shape memory alloy wires blooms open and then tightens up, depending on what is shown on-screen. One such implementation of that gesture, the Morphees developers suggest, is creating a more private terminal for inputing online banking information.

The other prototype, meanwhile, can shift from a flat “candybar” profile to a more gaming-suited shape, with the end pieces automatically curling to form handgrips when a game is launched.
Above is a video demo of the concepts described here. Who knows if any of these ideas will ever make it into retail devices, but regardless, sometimes the best ideas scientists come up with happen while researching something else.

Sidenote: I can just imagine how creepy this would be if it malfunctioned in your pocket and started wiggling around.

Source: SlashGear & Morphees.pdf