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Researchers show off flexible PaperPhone

The Queen's University Human Media Lab in Ontario and the E Ink Corporation have developed prototypes of a flexible mobile phone and a curved wristband computer

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 2 Queen's University Human Media Lab

PaperPhone

Researchers are set to present what they call an interactive flexible computer to a scientific conference on Tuesday, with the idea taking two forms: a 'PaperPhone' and a 'Snaplet' wristband computer.

The PaperPhone, pictured above, has a 3.7-inch flexible e-ink display. The researchers at the Queen's University Human Media Lab in Ontario worked with the E Ink Corporation, which provides the technology underpinning the screens of e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle, to develop the prototype computer.

According to the team, the flexibility of the display not only makes it easier to carry such devices in a pocket, but also allows for various new interactions with a smartphone.

The team collected 87 'bend gesture' pairs in total, with participants in trials recommending that three pairs — bending the side, the top corner and the bottom corner up and down — be standardised across applications. For example, bending the display upwards could be used to navigate left, while bending it down could be used to navigate right.

The PaperPhone uses a flexible electrophoretic display, five bi-directional bend sensors, a Gumstix processor and an Arduino microcontroller.

The team expects handheld mobile devices to provide the first commercial application for such technology, primarily because displays will be limited in size due to "technical reasons", but also because of the displays' portable nature.

According to a paper (PDF) that will be presented on Tuesday at the Association of Computing Machinery's Computer Human Interaction (CHI) 2011 conference in Vancouver, limitations of the prototype include the fact that it can only be bent on one side. The relatively slow refresh rate of flexible e-ink also makes real-time animations impossible.

The researchers published a video of the PaperPhone on YouTube on 3 May.

snaplet2-queens-university-human-media-lab.jpg
2 of 2 Queen's University Human Media Lab

Snaplet

The Queen's University researchers have also developed a prototype of what they call a Snaplet flexible wristband computer.

Also to be shown off at CHI 2011, the Snaplet's sensors tell the device in what shape it is being used. When curved across a wrist into a convex shape, the Snaplet (PDF) would function as a watch and media player, but when flat it would offer PDA and notepad functionality.

As with the PaperPhone, the Snaplet would be usable as a phone — when held in a concave shape.


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