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Ultrathin, flexible PaperTab redefines tablet form and function

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January 7, 2013

The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University

The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University

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Despite their portability and popularity, the slab of glass form factor of tablets has its downsides. Most notably for the less coordinated among us is the propensity for the display to crack or shatter when dropped. A team at Canada’s Queen’s University working in collaboration with Intel Labs and Plastic Logic is looking not only to redefine the tablet's form, but the way people use them with the development of a flexible touchscreen computer called the PaperTab.

The PaperTab features plastic transistor technology developed by Plastic Logic that we’ve previously seen in that company’s Plastic Logic Reader and QUE ProReader. With Plastic Logic having now turned from manufacturing its own e-Readers to partnering with other companies, the PaperTab is powered by a second generation Intel core i5 processor and boasts a 10.7-inch, high resolution E-ink touchscreen display that is flexible, shatterproof and looks and feels like a sheet of paper.

Aside from the paper-like form factor, the PaperTab is also designed to be used differently from a conventional tablet. Rather than switching between apps on a single display, multiple PaperTabs are designed to be used at once with each one acting as a window for separate applications, while still interacting with each other. The interface the team has developed is designed to enable the device (or devices) to replace a computer monitor and the stacks of printouts that still clutter most offices.

PaperTabs keep track of their location respective to other PaperTabs and the user

Using an electromagnetic tracker, each PaperTab can keep track of its location relative to other PaparTabs and the user so that the display changes dynamically based on its position. For example, PaperTabs placed out of reach of the user revert to a thumbnail view of a document and switch back to a full screen page view when picked up. Additionally, documents can be opened on one display by touching a document icon on another, while photos on one device can be attached to an email composed on another by touching the two devices together.

A larger display area can be created by simply placing two or more PaperTabs next to each other with objects able to be dragged across multiple displays. While the device features a touchscreen, users can also navigate documents by bending the display in various ways.

An email on one PaperTab can be sent by touching the outbox on another PaperTab

“Using several PaperTabs makes it much easier to work with multiple documents,” says Roel Vertegaal, Director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab. “Within five to ten years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets, will look and feel just like these sheets of printed color paper.”

The PaperTab is still some way off commercial availability, but paper thin, flexible tablets, whether made using Plastic Logic’s plastic transistor technology, flexible OLEDs or something else, are likely to be the next big thing in the evolution of tablet computing technology. We’ll be taking a closer look at the PaperTab in its current form at CES 2013 – stay tuned.

The PaperTab and the interface designed for it are demonstrated in the video below.

Source: Queen’s University

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
7 Comments

why not link all the app pages together into a book... oh yeah that's what we have now

Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer
8th January, 2013 @ 09:16 am PST

interesting concept imo. But wouldn't it be easier to just make the entire desk surface a touch screen and then electronically have multiple windows. This is aimed at the work environment I imagine.

cm
8th January, 2013 @ 05:32 pm PST

Looks like someone invested a lot of passion into a solution, before identifying a problem. That's a common mistake made by techno-geeks. I know, I are one.

splatman
8th January, 2013 @ 10:51 pm PST

@cm Like Dillinger's desk in the original TRON movie.

Gregg Eshelman
8th January, 2013 @ 11:17 pm PST

@cm

Not being able to pick up the desk to read the content like one would a printed page would be one reason why. Seems likely this system would cost less than a desk-sized screen.

C. Walker Jr.
9th January, 2013 @ 05:07 am PST

Now, if this was combined with paper-thin battery technology and Near Field Communications, then they might have a winner.

splatman
9th January, 2013 @ 02:05 pm PST

Sounds like a great idea as I am using my tablet with a cracked corner and broken screen from sliding off my legs yesterday. Would have saved the day!

OFF-it Inc.
5th April, 2013 @ 07:20 pm PDT
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