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A new twist on music

Queen’s researchers unveil bendable smartphone that works as a musical instrument.

Researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University have developed the world’s first musical instrument for a flexible smartphone. The device, dubbed WhammyPhone, allows users to bend the display in order to create sound effects on a virtual instrument, such as a guitar or violin.

The WhammyPhone allows users to use the phone's bend capability to control virtual musical instruments. (Supplied Photo)

“WhammyPhone is a completely new way of interacting with sound using a smartphone,” says Roel Vertegaal, a professor in the Queen's School of Computing and the director of the Human Media Lab. “It allows for the kind of expressive input normally only seen in traditional musical instruments.”

WhammyPhone features a 1920x1080 full high-definition Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (FOLED) touchscreen display. The display shows keys that can be used to play sounds on sound synthesis software running on a computer. Like the ReFlex flexible smartphone, WhammyPhone is also equipped with a bend sensor, which allows for the user to bend the phone as a means of manipulating the sound.

The bend input can be used to simulate bending a string on a virtual guitar, allowing the user to produce tones with variable pitch. The device can be used to simulate a number of instruments – from the strumming of a guitar to the bowing of a violin – with the flex of the screen serving to provide physical feedback to the user. The creators also envision WhammyPhone being used to control loops in electronic dance music – creating a more intuitive means for DJs to interact with their equipment.

“The real importance of WhammyPhone is that it provides the same kind of kinesthetic feedback that, say, a string provides when it is bent to alter the pitch>” says Dr. Vertegaal. “This kind of effect is critical for musicians to control their expression, and provides another level of utility for bend input in smartphones.”

Queen’s researchers unveiled WhammyPhone in Tokyo, Japan at the annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM0 Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology on October 17. The symposium is one of the top conferences in Human-Computer Interaction. The WhammyPhone project was support by funding from Immersion Canada Inc. and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).