It bends, it’s 3D and it’s a phone! Meet the Holoflex

Just when everyone’s tiring of all the incremental changes that phone manufacturers are bringing to their product lines, science has stepped in to save the day with the Holoflex.

Developed by the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, The phone features a bendable 3D display that lets multiple people to see different images depending on their perspective – without head tracking or silly specs.

“HoloFlex offers a completely new way of interacting with your smartphone,” Dr Roel Vertegaal, who led the project, says in a release. “It allows for glasses-free interactions with 3D video and images in a way that does not encumber the user.”

It was unveiled yesterday at the ACM CHI 2016 in San Jose, the top conference for rather ominous-sounding Human-Computer Interaction.

How Holoflex works

So how does it work? A nifty 1920×1080 full high-definition Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (FOLED) touchscreen display renders images into 12-pixel-wide circular blocks that generate the full view of the 3D object.

These pixel blocks project through a 3D-printed flexible microlens array consisting of over 16,000 fisheye lenses, creating a 160×104-resolution image to inspect a 3D-object from any angle by merely rotating the phone.

As with the ReFlex flexible smartphone, also developed by the team at Queen’s, Holoflex features a bend sensor that allows users to move objects vertically along the display’s z-axis, which is the third line on a 3D graph.

Other specs? A 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 2 GB of memory power this little beauty, while the board runs Android 5.1 and includes an Adreno 430 GPU supporting OpenGL 3.1.

But what can it do?

Dr Vertegaal expects the phone to have a number of applications – the one we’re most excited about is gaming. A demo video on the Queen’s website shows how Angry Birds could work: gamers simply bend the phone to catapult the bird across the screen. Thanks to the holographic display, the bird literally pops out of the screen into the air.

More boring – but probably more useful – applications include editing 3D models particularly when printing. The wide-angle view allows multiple users to examine how a 3D model could look from different angles, for instance.

Holoflex Angry Birds
Angry Birds in 3D could get us excited all over again
Holoflex Conference Call
By bending the display users can look around at each other

Business conference calls are another use. “By employing a depth camera, users can also perform holographic video conferences with one another”, says Dr Vertegaal. “When bending the display users literally pop out of the screen and can even look around each other, with their faces rendered correctly from any angle to any onlooker”.

The Human Media Lab is filled with the boffins behind inventions such as ubiquitous eye-tracking sensors, eye-tracking TVs and cellphones, PaperPhone, the world’s first flexible phone and TeleHuman, the world’s first pseudo-holographic teleconferencing system.

Images via the Human Media Lab