Whereas it is almost impossible to think of things that you can not do with a smartphone, our interaction with these technological tours de force is still relatively one-dimensional. Speech control is working ever better, but nonetheless the majority of users still speak through - rather than to - their telephones, while the physical contact is virtually limited to rubbing the touchscreen. Which is quite limited indeed, Ruben Daems thinks.
For this reason the Master’s student of Industrial Design, who obtained a bachelor in Mechanical Engineering before coming to TU/e, designed the Bendle for his graduation project: a prototype of a shape-changing smartphone. Daems used an Android telephone as the basis for this. In order to be able to add the ‘shape-changing’ elements, he designed a dedicated housing. The existing telephone makes the prototype fully functional at once, Daems explains. “That is important to me, for naturally the best way to communicate a concept is via a working prototype. The downside is that the Bendle is thicker than you are used to with a smartphone.”
The Bendle owes its flexible nature to two hinged systems - somewhat like ‘flaps’ - on the rear side of the housing, which the user can bend away and press from the side of the telephone. Daems coupled the movement of the left rear side to the telephone’s zoom function. “By pushing the flap back, you zoom in. That feels quite natural, because you move the telephone towards the object to be photographed, as it were.”
In addition, you can set the lighting of the camera (the ISO value) by rubbing your finger along the right-hand side of the Bendle, as if it were a scroll wheel. “The telephone provides feedback for this movement by means of the vibration function, so that you can feel immediately that you have changed the setting.” The Bendle gives similar feedback when you make a photo by pressing the side.
“The market is not yet ready for this product”
The communication between the Bendle and the telephone proceeds with Bluetooth, via the existing Camera Pro app. By way of an intermediate station Daems built a microcontroller that converts the movements into input for the telephone. In principle the reverse is possible also: in the future the telephone must also react to its environment by changing shape.
That is still in the future, though; first the Bendle is going to be tested in Denmark by users, supervised by Daems’ coach Miguel Bruns. “I myself am going to try and find a job in a design agency”, says the designer. For a product like the Bendle the market is not ready yet, he thinks. “Bendle is more of a vision for the future. Still, I do want to keep involved with interactive technology.”