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Nokia presents glimpse of next smart phones

Posted: 18 Nov 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile? next-gen smart phone? MEMS? display?

In 2004, Nokia Corp. developed a concept design for a smart phone dominated by a touchscreen, which looks now uncannily like Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

In 2008, Nokia did the exercise again, presenting a concept design of the "morph" mobile phone of 2012. If the predictions ring as true as they did in 2004, then the future of mobile phones will include transparency, transformability and compliancy.

With drawings and animations, Tapani Ryhanen, director and head, Nokia's Research Center Laboratory presented his newest mobile phone concept design, dubbed as "morph," at the MEMS Executive Congress, hosted by the MEMS Industry Group. RF MEMS, silicon microphones, accelerometers, microbolometers, microfluidics and other embedded MEMS devices will converge to enable mobile phones to sense not only their environment, but also the health and temperament of the people in its vicinity.

"We are focusing on nanosciences that will transform the user's experience, in research collaborations with the University of Cambridge and the Helsinki University of Technology," said Ryhanen.

The future handset's features
Ryhanen showed how transparency will turn a mobile phone's entire case into a display, having different dashboards to be buried at different depths in the case. Users will view various menus, readouts and touchpads on these integrated displays from any orientation, even through its backside. Current research at Nokia and its collaborators are realizing this dream by expanding the reach of transparent zinc-oxide wiring with tough carbon-nanotube-based electronics embedded into polymer composites that give designer mechanical and electrical characteristics.

Transformability, according to Ryhanen's morph concept design, will help users to snap apart their mobile smart phone, and reassemble it, with optional modules, to adapt its functionality for different applications like turning it into a GPS-enabled dead-reckoning belt clip for hiking, then reassembling it into WiMAX-enabled location-sensitive vest-pocket shape when going to work.

The value of transformability
Ryhanen also claimed Nokia was researching methods of making mobile phones, conformable that is, allowing users to bend their electronics devices into different configurations, such into an arm band, by using stretchable and flexible cases with integrated displays. To realize transformability, Nokia Research is currently experimenting with printing electronics onto soft polymer substrates using inexpensive reel-to-reel presses. Use of flexible, printable and transparent materials with integrated electronics and displays will allow the users to morph their mobile phones into personalized configurations, according to Ryhanen.

More sensitive handsets
The mobile phone will also need a new array of sensors integrated into the structural mechanics of the case/display, including chemical and bioassay sensors operating at THz frequencies that can penetrate the skin to anticipate a user's physical and emotional state. Human-computer interfaces with the device will be based on multimodal interactions including pointing, looking, touching, shaking and natural verbal dialogues, according to Ryhanen.

The modular concept design also expects the availability of alternative power sources for future mobile phones, including more flexible batteries with higher-power density and ultrafast recharging to other energy chemistries, including photovoltaic and fuel cells.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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