University of Bristol researchers have designed a small, handheld sized device with the ability to ‘shapeshift’ into different forms. The device has a Rubik’s Cube style design, with moveable cubes each with a tiny touchscreen on all sides. Hinges allow movement across any edge of each cube. The device is designed with an algorithm to change shape without any of the cubes colliding, or snapping shut on the user, according to the creators. The researchers indicated that the device could be used in a variety of applications, such as education and gaming. The gadget, called a ‘Cubimorph,’ could be programmed by any user to customize the device – including companies like Samsung or Apple.

Researchers encountered obstacles finding an appropriate algorithm. Specifically, one issue was that most algorithms would have changed the device to and from different shapes by going back to a straight line in between the transformations. Such a process would not have been conducive to most possible uses of the device.

The lead researcher of the project was Anne Roudaut, a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol. Roudaut expresses particular interest in enhancing the ability of machines to recreate the versatile human ability to manipulate objects. She sees one aspect of the Cubimorph’s future in adapting devices to users with a range of different ‘morphologies’, as she puts it. The device could adapt to fit the morphologies of different users, such as kids, the elderly, and those with certain impairments.

The modular device may represent the future of an industry which increasingly looks towards AI and adaptability to better suit a wide range of needs for prospective users. The Cubimorph represents a concept which could potentially be scaled up in sophistication to develop the future of mobile devices.

Roudaut says the Cubimorph could reach the market 10 years from now. However, the researchers are, for now, taking cues from other robotics teams as to how to improve the device. They presented their paper at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held May 16th through the 21st in Stockholm, Sweden. Rondaut herself focuses on the prospects for further development of the concept, emphasizing that “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.”

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