Tech development promises stretchy interactive screens

Shape changing displays are set to transform how we interact with content thanks to an EU-backed research project that ends this year. GHOST (Generic, Highly-Organic Shape-Changing Interfaces) started in January 2013 and brought together four universities from the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. It has delivered a number of prototypes including Emerge, a system to display manipulable 3D bar charts.

“This will have all sorts of implications for the future, from everyday interaction with mobile phones to learning with computers and design work,” Professor Kasper Hornbæk, from the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

“It’s not only about deforming the shape of the screen, but also the digital object you want to manipulate, maybe even in mid-air. Through ultrasound levitation technology, for example, we can project the display out of the flat screen. And thanks to deformable screens we can plunge our fingers into it.”

Alongside prototypes the research group suggests future applications such as giving a surgeon the opportunity to work on a virtual brain with a rich tactile experience, before performing a real-life operation.

Researchers have also been working with ‘morphees’, which are flexible mobile devices with lycra or alloy displays which bend and stretch according to use. These can change shape automatically or be resized depending on the content the user wishes to view.

UltraHaptics, a startup featured by InAVate in October 2013, also came out of the GHOST project. The company emerged from the University of Bristol and uses ultrasound to create feeling in mid-air.

“GHOST has made a lot of progress simply by bringing the partners together and allowing us to share our discoveries,” added Professor Hornbæk. “Displays which change shape as you are using them are probably only five years off now. If you want your smartphone to project the landscape of a terrain 20 or 30 cm out of the display, that’s a little further off - but we’re working on it.”