Smartphones getting closer to the body

The race for the mobile phone future is on, and researchers are coming up a number of concepts including fold-out and 3D displays, sensors and a computer identity chip to wear in a ring.

It’s clear to see that the miniature computer Google Glass is just one of many concepts.

”I congratulate Google that they rushed forward into the future.

The rest of the industry is somewhat more conservative,” said Patrick Baudisch, a researching computer scientist at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) in Potsdam near Berlin.

Baudisch wonders if the mass public will accept the Google idea in its current form.

”As a scientist I am thrilled about it. But in the end it’s the consumer who decides.”

Darmstadt University computer scientist Max Muehlhaeuser is more sceptical about the interactive Google glasses because the smartphone right now is mainly a private device. But he feels the next generation will want to share their common experiences, meaning a bigger display will be more desired than a tiny display near the eye.

”When you aren’t using the smartphone, you wish it were smaller.

But when you use it and want to read information on the screen, then bigger is better,” said Muehlhaeuser.

”This problem can be solved with hinging, folding and rollable displays.”

These kinds of screens were on display in varying sizes at the recent DisplayWeek trade fair in Vancouver, with manufacturers such as Sharp and LG Electronics attending with highly innovative displays.

The flexible displays are usually covered with organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).

But the Darmstadt researcher is instead working on a way to transform any surface into a display by projecting images onto it.

He is initially using plastic films which carry markers and trackers similar to that in the Microsoft XBox One gaming system.

”The optical tracking system recognizes how and where we hold the film and controls a number of projectors so that the precise section in the correct distortion is projected onto the film. The users feel like they have a display in front of them,” explained Muehlhaeuser.

He is even planning to use objects in the room, like coffee cups, as controls. Turning the cup could scroll the display.

Taking the next step, once smartphones better recognize their surroundings, there will be entirely new ways to present information for each specific situation.

”The mobile phone of the future will be able to see,” said Muehlhaeuser.

”It will ‘understand’ the real surroundings in its elements and layer it three-dimensionally with information.”

But there about 15 years of research is still needed to get there.

Scientists believe tomorrow’s mobile phone will get closer and closer to integrating with the body.

”Our goal is to make applications on mobile devices more realistic and more immersive,” said Baudisch.

And Muehlhaeuser believes more sensors will be used and serve as a gateway into world of the web.

One problem will be stopping other people taking command of our phones. A solution would be a tiny computer built into a ring on our finger or an ear-ring which would be in ultimate control of the smartphone.

”We will wear sensors on our body and that data will be sent for example via Bluetooth to mobile devices,” said the Darmstadt researcher, who sees voice control being further developed after the breakthrough of Apple’s Siri. (dpa)