HoloFlex makes dreams of bendable, holographic phones come true

A few years ago, Samsung and LG were almost at east other's throats, trying to beat the other to the flexible smartphone race. Both, however, have stopped short of that goal, settling for curved smartphones like the G Flex, or curved edge screens like the Galaxy S7 edge. Some, however, have never given up that dream. Researchers from Australia's Queen's University Human Media Lab have cooked up a smartphone that does flex just a bit. That, however, is only in service to the HoloFlex's real raison d'ĂȘtre: projecting holograms.

The Nintendo 3DS made glasses-free 3D a fad, but few really picked up from that. There is somewhat renewed interest in seeing synthetic 3D images again, thanks to the rise of virtual and mixed reality technologies. Doing all that on a smartphone, however, has been mostly a pipe dream. Until now, that is.

The researchers employs a lightfield display in order to project stereoscopic 3D that anyone can view without the glasses. The lens arrays its on top of a regular, but flexible, OLED screen and takes all the information from the display beneath, not just color but also information like angles of the light rays in order to construct a convincing 3D image that seems to hover above the smartphone display.

Admittedly, conventional touch gestures doesn't really scale to holographic 3D displays, so the researchers devised a new method of controlling things on the z-axis, which is to say the depth of the holographic display. To make it work they needed to resort of flexible OLED (FOLED) screens and some flexible electronics. One side, the left particularly, remains solid but you can still bend the whole smartphone inward or outward. So imagine playing Angry Birds, where bending the display outward would pull the slingshot, giving an almost more realistic feel to the action. And, of course, the avian really does pop out, at least visually, from the screen thanks to the holographic projection.

Of course, the HoloFlex is still a research project, so it's far from perfect. While the FOLED display underneath does have an 1080p resolution, the lightfield practically only has a resolution of 160x104 hexagons, which might make you feel like you're looking at an image superimposed on a bee hive. Still, it's a very interesting application of some technologies and materials already in existence today. Now if only Samsung or LG would take notice.