Innovation news in brief: flexible smartphones; metrology; materials

The ReFlex flexible smartphone. Photograph courtesy of Human Media Lab

World’s first bendable smartphone unveiled

Scientists in Canada claim to have developed the world’s first flexible smartphone.

Researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, said the flexible high-resolution wireless smartphone – called the ReFlex – allows users to experience physical tactile feedback when interacting with their apps through bend gestures.

Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab, which is based at the University, explained: “When this smartphone is bent down on the right, pages flip through the fingers from right to left, just like they would in a book. More extreme bends speed up the page flips.

“Users can feel the sensation of the page moving through their fingertips via a detailed vibration of the phone. This allows eyes-free navigation, making it easier for users to keep track of where they are in a document.”

Vertegaal said the flexible smartphones could be on general sale within five years.

Advanced metrology facility to be built at Silverstone Park

Metrology solutions provider Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI) is to build a new facility at Silverstone Park that could revolutionise the fortunes of SMEs and start-ups operating in advanced engineering

Metrology delivers inspection, validation and ultimately quality control of components – predominantly those made of metals, plastics or composites.

The new facility will provide measurement services, crucial for the growing high-performance technology and motorsport (HPT&M) sector at Silverstone Park, to achieve accuracy and high-performance.

HMI is recognised as one of the best metrology specialists in the world and works with most of the Formula 1 teams based in the UK, plus automotive manufacturers including Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls Royce.

John Drover, Hexagon’s regional sales manager, commented: “The degree of accuracy to which our systems measure these days is mind-boggling, I suppose – we are talking a sub-micron (ten millionth of a metre), and for any company to come away from this facility with a measurement report to say their product has passed the inspection means that they have the right credibility and peace of mind when taking their prototype to market.”

Welsh innovation centre generates £18 million for South Wales economy

New research suggests Welsh ICE has generated a £13.8 million benefit to the Welsh economy since its launch in 2012, Wales Online reports.

The research report, completed by CM International, examined the number of full-time equivalent jobs created by businesses at ICE, as well as analysing surveys and interviews conducted among ICE members.

Based on the number of jobs created by current and former members, the report estimates that Welsh ICE has a current net gross value added (GVA) benefit to the Welsh economy of £13.8m.

This figure could rise to more than £50 million in the next three years if GVA estimates of future job creation are realised, the report adds.

Materials innovation factory tops out

A topping out ceremony for Unilever’s new materials innovation factory has taken place at the University of Liverpool.

A partnership between the University and Unilever, the facility aims to accelerate research and reduce new product development times for the Unilever home care and personal care categories.

The private-public partnership is expected to open in 2017 and will provide equipment at the cutting-edge of chemistry research to facilitate the discovery of new materials which have the potential to save energy and natural resources, improve health or transform a variety of manufacturing processes.

The factory is expected to be occupied by a total of 300 researchers, including University staff, a team of Unilever scientists, and a broad range of other industrial and academic partners.

Welham named as interim CEO at BBSRC

Prof Melanie Welham has been named as the new interim CEO of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the UK’s national funding agency supporting biotechnology and biological sciences research.

Announcing the appointment, science minister Jo Johnson, said: “As the previous director of science at the BBSRC and with an excellent track record across research, academia and management, Melanie is very well placed to take on this role. I wish her well in her appointment.”

The interim appointment will run from 1 March 2016 until a new CEO is recruited to replace the outgoing Jackie Hunter. Hunter is leaving BBSRC at the end of February to become the new CEO of artificial intelligence and drug discovery firm, Stratified Medical.