Scientists working on 'morphing' smartphone screens

The next great leap for smart phone technology could be screens that shape-shift into tactile and fully operational controls, according to researchers in Britain.

LONDON (REUTERS) - We're spending more time than ever starring down at our smartphones.

Apart from the aches and pains of so-called "text neck", it could put us in harm's way.

But what if the hard screen of your phone could mutate and morph under your fingers into a tangible dial or button.

That's the goal of a team of computer scientists at Swansea University.

"What we want to do is to see if we can move away from the very seductive but flat and dull dead screens of conventional mobile phones; try and bring them alive so you can feel and touch and manipulate them with perhaps not even having to look down and being drawn into that dark screen," said Professor Matt Jones, from Swansea University's computer science department.

In June, they were awarded more than a million pounds by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to fund their research.

So far, they've built several rudimentary prototypes showing how pixels on a phone screen could influence the ones adjacent when manipulated.

"Our research starts with exposing the technology to real people with real needs and understanding how this kind of new interaction might fit into their everyday lives," said Professor Jones.

It's a long way from where they hope the project will end up.

"That your hard screen can dissolve in front of your eyes and up comes some controls. Those controls could be physical sliders that you could put your fingers on and around and actually physically move... And when you've finished, it will just dissolve back again, seamlessly and beautifully," said Professor Jones.

The 42-month project aims to prove whether or not the idea is actually viable.

Even so, the team concedes massive investment will be needed to make it a reality - but they're confident morphing screens are within their grasp.