The design can be unfolded to incorporate multiple input devices.
A possible mobile phone of the future went on display Feb. 25 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Developed by Nokia and the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, the device employs nanotechnology to create a stretchable and flexible phone.
The folded design fits easily in a pocket and could lend itself ergonomically to being used as a traditional handset. An unfolded larger design could display more detailed information and incorporate input devices such as keyboards and touch pads.
"We hope that this combination of art and science will showcase the potential of nanoscience to a wider audience," Tapani Ryhanen, chief of the NRC (Nokia Research Center) at Cambridge, said in a statement. "The research we are carrying out is fundamental to this as we seek a safe and controlled way to develop and use new materials."
According to Nokia, elements of this "Morph" project might be available to integrate into handheld devices within seven years. Even then, the technology on display through May 12 is likely to be unavailable except on high-end phones. In the long term, though, Nokia said nanotechnology holds the promise of integrating complex functionality at a low price.
"Developing the Morph concept with Nokia has provided us with a focus that is both artistically inspirational but, more importantly, sets the technology agenda for our joint nanoscience research that will stimulate our future work together," Mark Welland, head of the Department of Engineering's Nanoscience Group at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.
Nokia and the school began the project a year ago in hopes of bridging the gap between highly advanced technologies and potential end user benefits. Nanoscale technologies are expected to create a wide range of new possibilities to consumers.
Nanotechnology materials and components are flexible, stretchable, transparent and strong. Using the same principle behind spider silk, the Nokia Morph project weaves fibril proteins woven into a three-dimensional mesh that reinforces thin, elastic structures.
Nokia and the University of Cambridge said even integrated electronics could share these flexible properties. Further, they said, utilization of biodegradable materials might make production and recycling of devices easier and ecologically friendlier.