Design Engineering

Canadian researchers develop first interactive bending smartphone


Electronics Queens University smartphone

The smartphone features accurate physical simulation of interacting with virtual data.

The smartphone is getting even smarter. Researchers at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have designed a flexible smartphone, named ReFlex, that combines multitouch with bend input. This allows for users to receive tactile feedback when interacting with apps through bending gestures.

ReFlex smartphone

Credit: Human Media Lab

“This represents a completely new way of physical interaction with flexible smartphones” says Roel Vertegaal (School of Computing), director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University.

Users are able to flip through pages just like a book by bending the smartphone. The more the phone is bent, the faster the pages flip.

“Users can feel the sensation of the page moving through their fingertips via a detailed vibration of the phone,” adds Vertegaal. “This allows eyes-free navigation, making it easier for users to keep track of where they are in a document.”


ReFlex is based on a high definition 720p LG Display Flexible OLED touch screen powered by an Android 4.4 “KitKat” board mounted to the side of the display. When the users bend the screen, the bend sensors behind the display sense the force, which is available to apps for use as input.

ReFlex also features a voice coil that allows the phone to simulate forces and friction through highly detailed vibrations of the display providing users with a highly realistic simulation.

“This allows for the most accurate physical simulation of interacting with virtual data possible on a smartphone today,” says Vertegaal. “When a user plays the “Angry Birds” game with ReFlex, they bend the screen to stretch the sling shot. As the rubber band expands, users experience vibrations that simulate those of a real stretching rubber band. When released, the band snaps, sending a jolt through the phone and sending the bird flying across the screen.”

Queen’s researchers will unveil the ReFlex prototype at the tenth anniversary Conference on Tangible Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI) conference in Eindhoven, The Netherlands on February 17th.

Vertegaal expects this new technology to be in the hands of users within the next five years.


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