The future of smartphones might not be flashy technology like augmented reality, but a device that actually takes a page from the real world – at least, if one researcher has his way.
Marc Teyssier, a PhD student at the University of Paris-Saclay in France, has developed the ‘MobiLimb,’ a robotic finger that turns into a phone accessory when it’s plugged into a USB port.
It serves as a literal helping hand, functioning as a phone stand, extra grip to hold onto your phone or a way to act out emojis.
Other functions are a bit more sentimental. It can transform your smartphone from a cold, hard brick into a friend with a finger that strokes your hand every so often.
The robotic finger’s basic design is a black silicon material. But Teyssier has also created a ‘finger-like skin with a high degree of realism,’ making it seem straight out of Black Mirror or a Mutant Toy from Toy Story.
‘This texture is made of painted Plastil Gel-10 silicon used in the movies industry to make fake limb and skin,’ Teyssier’s website notes.
‘Using a humanlike skin with the phone illustrates changes the perception of the mobile device from an inanimate object to an “almost” human entity.’
If human skin isn’t your thing, Teyssier also created a bizarre fur cover that turns the finger into a delightful tail.
Even more convenient, Teyssier’s website shows yet another cover that looks like a scorpion stinger.
Teyssier details what the finger can be used for in a paper set to be presented at the Berlin User Interface Software and Technology conference in October.
The robotic finger is fitted with a number of actuators and sensors that power its haptic feedback capabilities.
Teyssier describes how smartphones are limited by the fact that they can only remain static and motionless.
‘In the spirit of human augmentation, which aims at overcoming human body limitations by using robotic devices, our approach aims at overcoming mobile device limitations (static, passive, motionless) by using a robotic limb,’ according to the paper.
They propose using the robotic finger as a way to animate your smartphone, allowing it to drag your smartphone across a surface, crawling toward your hand.
In other cases, the finger will move up and down when a user receives a notification.
For gamers, it could be used as a controller or joystick to manipulate virtual objects, such as a character in a video game.
And if Apple’s Heartbeat feature, which sends a heart emoji and haptic feedback to your friends or family’s device, wasn’t enough, the MobiLimb adds an extra layer.
When users send someone an emoji, the robotic finger can mime the emoji’s emotion on your hand.
For example, if someone sends a smiling emoji, the robotic finger will stroke the back of your hand.
‘In real life, we use touch to convey emotions,’ Teyssier told New Scientist.
‘A robotic extension like MobiLimb would be capable of transmitting a remote touch from someone.’
It’s unclear if the average consumer wants their smartphone to be able to come crawling back to them, but should they want it to, MobiLimb is the perfect device for that.