Researchers dream up mobile chameleon device

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Imagine tapping out text messages on a device the size of an index card and
as flat as a piece of paper, then folding it in thirds to hold it to your ear
and make a phone call. Refold it in a slightly different shape and wrap it around
your wrist, where it becomes a watch and also communicates with an ear bud that
lets you talk hands free.

Nokia researchers, along
with researchers at the University of Cambridge in England, have created an
animated video describing such a vision for mobile devices, which could come
in the future through nanotechnology developments.

The animation shows practical applications for several specific types of work
that the scientists are developing based on their nanotechnology research, said
Tapani Ryhanen, the head of multimedia devices research at Nokia Research Center.
The concept video was created at the prodding of New York's Museum of Modern
Art, which is opening an exhibit Sunday called "Design and the Elastic
Mind," he said.

In another segment of the video, the user flaps the paper-thin device in front
of an apple. Tiny particles fly off the apple, landing on the device, which
quickly analyzes them. It then flashes a warning signal, recommending that the
user wash the apple before eating it.

That's one of the most interesting potential uses that Ryhanen sees. "Personally,
I'm mostly interested about the bigger issue of how we can make our mobile devices
more intelligent and so they can sense something from the environment,"
he said. One day, a device like the one in the video could sense harmful elements
in the air. With potentially millions of such devices communicating globally,
they might be able to warn people about a disease that could spread into a pandemic,
identifying dangerous areas around the world, he said.

The device in the animation is covered in minuscule "grass" that
can absorb solar energy to power it. It's also "syperhydrophobic,"
making it incredibly dirt repellent. The animated woman in the video, sitting
at an outdoor café, accidentally drops a bit of honey on the device and
the drop slides off without leaving a bit behind.

Just before she walks away, she places the device on top of her brightly colored
purse and snaps a photo. When she folds the device around her wrist, she sets
a new wallpaper and the entire surface of the device displays the same pattern
as her purse.

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