Posts Tagged ‘shape’

Shape-shifting devices, gadgets for the future

// April 29th, 2013 // 1 Comment » // Recent Research

I’ve always wanted a computer that would fold up like a newspaper. I could sit on a bench and open it to read, then close it up and cram into a bag. It wouldn’t be backlit like a computer screen, just a soothing paper-like display. There’s something lacking in e-readers today that look terribly phoney. As in, they look like giant phones or tablets. I want one like a book, an extremely lightweight paperback.

That’s been the dream since before iPhone’s were released, and it looks like it’s a step closer now. New prototypes for shape-shifting mobile devices were unveiled today at the Computer-Human Interaction Conference CHI2013 in Paris. They transform on demand, bending up to hide personal information or curving around to make a console for playing games. The press release says they can even curl into a stress ball, which doesn’t sound very healthy for a smart phone, though I can imagine it might come in handy.

Here’s a nifty video of the “Morphees” in action.

There are a few different ways the researcher’s achieved this kind of movement. Some prototypes used wires attached to motors that pulled and pushed them. Others used memory wire, which reverts to its original shape when heated by running a current through the wire.

The research was led by Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian from the University of Bristol. They have also introduced a new metric to help guide the developing industry – “shape resolution.” Like screen resolution, shape resolution allows different devices to be compared easily, measuring the ability to stretch, bend, curve and so on.

On a related note, researcher Roel Vertegaal from Queen’s University is working on thinfilm phones, called the world’s first paper computer. The work was presented at the same conference, CHI, in 2011. Here’s a quick video. Looks incredible.

Pretty keen to head over to the next CHI conference, which is in Toronto on April 26, 2014. Though it might be easier to get to the 2015 one in Asia, as it’s a bit closer to Australia. For more info on the conferences, check out the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction.

The Japanese bullet train, designed by kingfishers

// July 18th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work

Kingfisher and bullet train

Images by heavenlyvacation and MJTR (´・ω・) on flickr

It’s a beautiful example of biomimicry, nature informing technology. The shinkansen bullet trains of Japan are airplanes on rails, traveling at over 300 km per hour in comfort and style.

Traveling at this speed, tunnels present a problem. When the train enters the tunnel it compresses a cushion of air ahead of it. The compressed air waves become a small shock wave when they exit the tunnel, moving through the air faster than the speed of sound. The tunnel boom sounds like a clap of thunder, and residents complained.

Engineers looked for examples in nature to solve the problem, and they fixed on the kingfisher. When the bird dives into the water for fish it makes hardly any splash. They generated computer models and found that modifying the nose of the train to mimic the kingfisher bill would reduce tunnel boom. The new generations of bullet trains now sport the kingfisher look and are quieter, faster and use 15% less electricity.

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