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Thin-film flexible 'Paperphone' created

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May 5, 2011

Researchers have created a thin film flexible smartphone, known as the Paperphone (Photos:...

Researchers have created a thin film flexible smartphone, known as the Paperphone (Photos: Queen's University)

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Researchers from the Human Media Lab at Canada's Queen's University have created a fully-functioning floppy E-Ink smartphone, which they also refer to as a paper computer. Like its thicker, rigid-bodied counterparts, the Paperphone can do things like making and receiving calls, storing e-books, and playing music. Unlike them, however, it conforms to the shape of its user's pocket or purse, and can even be operated through bending actions.

"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper," said its creator, Roel Vertegaal, who is also the director of the 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 device has a 9.5-cm (3.74-inch) thin film flexible E-Ink display, underneath which is a flexible printed circuit incorporating resistive bend sensors. Those sensors allow it to be programmed to recognize different types of bending gestures, which will subsequently result in it doing things such as navigating menus, making calls, selecting songs, or any other function. A built-in Wacom tablet also allows users to draw on its screen – making it even more paper-like.

When not actually being operated, the Paperphone consumes no electricity. Vertegaal's team have also created a similar device, the Snaplet, which can be worn like a wristband. It operates as a watch when in a convex state, becomes a PDA when flat, and can be used as a phone when turned concave.

The Paperphone's sister device, the Snaplet wearable computer

The technology is the result of a collaboration between Queen's University and Arizona State University, and will be officially presented on May 10th at the CHI 2011 conference in Vancouver.

"This is the future," said Vertegaal. "Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years."

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

how fatigue affect the display? i see a lot of bending and twisting as part of it operability, this could be a problem.

Denis Klanac
5th May, 2011 @ 06:02 pm PDT

ultraviolet, but better

Daniel Plata Baca
5th May, 2011 @ 10:40 pm PDT

our future smartphones are here

Yusuf Farooque
6th May, 2011 @ 04:38 am PDT

It seem's good, but I dont think id want to bend it all the time, I dont think the future looks so bright.

Sam Claire White
6th May, 2011 @ 08:20 am PDT

How thick and bendable are the batteries? What's at the other end of that wide flat cable? OK, it's an interesting prototype of a flexible display, and certainly adds an interesting 3rd dimension to multitouch. But I doubt it will show up as a totally bendable one piece phone in the next 5 years. Maybe it could have bluetooth connectivity to a separate rigid smartphone base station that resides in your pocket.

SeekMocha
6th May, 2011 @ 04:32 pm PDT

There are thin film, flexible speakers too, that could be put on this. Rigid components could be put at one end, and the rest rolled up.

Bob Tackett
9th May, 2011 @ 08:56 am PDT

Remember Gene Roddenberry and his series Earth Final Conflict. MCI had placed their name on the flexible scanner phone - exactly like the one in the photos above. Science Fiction becomes reality again....

Mark Hewitt
9th May, 2011 @ 09:02 am PDT

I've always prided myself on being quite flexible (no pun intended) when it comes to technology, but somehow this just feels 'wrong'. I think it's just because it seems to hurl us even quicker into our 'disposable' society. This could not possibly have a physical life of more than a year, probably less. They will most likely get around this by making the units themselves pretty cheap to buy. But, what's wrong with making things that last? I mean, even right now when we treat ourselves to the newest and best..say a new computer...it's actually nearly obsolete by the time we get it home and set up. I have seen this firsthand when I bought a laptop while visiting my daughter. When I got home I decided I didn't really like it, but since I bought it at a 'non big box' store, returning it would have meant sending it to my daughter and having her exchange it. I decided to sell it myself, and advertised it on Craig's list for about 10% less than I paid. NOBODY would come near to my asking price, even though if they tried buying it 'new' (unboxed) it would have cost them a lot more than I was asking. In the end I DID send it back to my daughter. The store owners were great and only charged me a $20 'restocking' fee, and gave me the cash back rather than a store credit or something useless to me. Still, it is crazy how quickly things lose value in our society. What will we pass down to our children? Certainly not our outdated tech items. (Even furniture is unlikely to become a 'heirloom' any more!) Oh well, life marches on.

CarolinadeWitte
10th May, 2011 @ 02:54 pm PDT

ADD A FLEXIBLE SOLAR CELL AND YOU HAVE A RE-POWERING SOURCE. I LIKE THIS - PERHAPS THE FLEXIBLE BATTERY IS JUST A LIQUID CELL.

James Stutsman
11th May, 2011 @ 08:09 pm PDT

I agree with Mark Hewitt. This is certainly a step forward to that MCI phone shown in that TV show. I think that form factor is an obvious evolution of all of our mobile devices in one. A roll out screen is practical simply because you could roll out only what screen you would need. After that, screens will no longer be needed as we will be able to directly interact with a holographic display, much like what Tony Stark does in Iron Man 2.

Guy Martin
26th May, 2011 @ 01:33 am PDT

this version of a PDA was basically inevitable once we had E-paper or OLED's.

of course, people had been predicting such things for years now.

like this webcomic:

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/shaenongarrity/narbonic_plus/series.php?view=archive&chapter=48891&name=narbonic_plus

Mark Temple
1st June, 2011 @ 03:06 am PDT
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