A pocket-sized computer as thin and flexible as a sheet of paper is set to be unveiled next week. While it's just a prototype, the researchers say the bendy souped-up smartphone could revolutionize the way we interact with computers.
Called PaperPhone, the new device is a flexible version of e-ink, the digital ink screen found in e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle.
"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper,” said lead PaperPhone creator Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen's University Human Media Lab. “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 researchers have built a prototype phone -- a 3.7-inch (9.5-cm) diagonal e-ink display -- and taken it for a test drive. The device was used to navigate through a menu of contacts, make calls, select songs and perform various other tasks.
The PaperPhone isn’t available for purchase quite yet, and it will be five to 10 years before you can buy one, said Audrey Girouard, a postdoctoral student at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University.
The new bendy computer is made of two layers: the e-ink display and a flexible printed circuit with five bend sensors.
"We have software that collects the values given by the bend sensors (location and direction) and then we convert that into gestures," Girouard told InnovationNewsDaily.
These gestures are then fed into a gesture-recognition engine trained to associate certain movements with certain instructions. For example, bending the bottom corner of the display down will move one contact down when navigating through a contact list.
When the Kindle was first introduced, it was touted as a paperlike computer. One of its main benefits over computer displays was the fact that it didn’t have the glare found when reading on a computer screen. But it isn’t really the same as reading a paper-based book or newspaper.
The PaperPhone uses the same glare-free screen technology found in the Kindle, but it feels a little more like paper.
"Paper is basically what the Kindle is trying to replace, but paper is flexible," Girouard said.
Just like you would turn pages in a paper book, you can also turn pages on the PaperPhone, by bending the top corner toward you.
The researchers will unveil their prototype PaperPhone on May 10 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer Human Interaction conference in Vancouver.