It shifts shape on the fly, re-routing connections for the fastest way and rendering cohesive images on its building-block display. This Rubix-like handheld, capable of shifting from a game controller to a brick phone, is called Cubimorph, and it holds great promise for the smartphone market.
If modular devices are the future of mobility, then Anne Roudaut, co-leader of the Bristol Interaction Group, thinks that the Cubimorph takes the first step in bringing such concepts to fruition. However, there's still much more work to be done on the Cubimorph, the Bristol University lecturer pointed out.
"Cubimorph is the first step towards a real modular interactive device," Roudaut said. "Much work still needs to be achieved to put such devices in the end-user hands but we hope our work will create discussion between the human computer interaction and robotics communities that could be of benefit to one another."
Roudaut led the study on the Cubimorph and what's called programmable matter alongside researchers from Lancaster, Purdue and Sussex Universities. The modular phone is being shown off at the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society's International Conference on Robotics and Automation this week.
The modular handset is composed of a series of connected cubes, each with touch screens covering all six of their sides. Inside the cubes are disks, or turntables, which enable them to pivot to new connections.
In its current form, it may not look all that compelling as a smartphone replacement. However, the Cubimorph is a study in programmable matter, and it's a concept that could be built out to scale down something sleeker and more capable.
A popular example of the concept of programmable matter is the Transformers franchise, in which its namesake characters have the ability to shape shift between pedal and vehicular forms. That's the idea behind Cubimorph.
In a sense, Cubimorph is a low-resolution picture of one of the mobile industry's possible futures. As research in programmable matter advances, those cubes and the space between them will get smaller.
See the Cubimorph in action in the video below: