May 6, 2011

Researchers Create Paper-thin, Bendable Smartphone

So your current smartphone tells you the time, allows you to read today's news, alerts you to appointments and even makes phone calls. But what if it also was large enough to use like a current tablet device and thin enough to fold up into your wallet? What if it actually was your wallet?

Canadian researchers have created a working prototype smartphone made of e-paper called the PaperPhone which can do all the things bulkier smartphones can except that its different functions are activated when it is folded in certain ways, BBC News reports.

The PaperPhone emerged from a collaboration between researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen's University, Canada and Arizona State University's Motivational Environments Research group.

"Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years," said creator Dr. Roel Vertegaal. "This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen."

The prototype, only a few millimeters thick, hints at the next generation of computers that are super lightweight, made of flexible thin-film and use no power when not in use. Users don't feel like they're holding a sheet of glass or metal.

Created to investigate how people use bending and flexing to control such a device. The early version is connected to a laptop to interpret and record the ways test subjects flexed it.

Dr. Vertegaal predicts that widespread use of larger versions of the PaperPhone might make the paperless office a reality. Being able to store and interact with documents on larger versions of these light, flexible computers means offices will no longer require paper or printers.

"The paperless office is here. Everything can be stored digitally and you can place these computers on top of each other just like a stack of paper, or throw them around the desk" says Dr. Vertegaal.

The research team also plans to show off a device they called the Snaplet, which takes on different functions depending on how it is worn and bent. The wristband is a watch when convex, a PDA when flat and a phone when concave.


Image 1: PaperPhone prototype. Credit: Human Media Lab, Queen's University

Image 2: Snaplet prototype. Credit: Human Media Lab, Queen's University


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