Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Paper Smartphones Use Bending Gestures"

A user demonstrates how "bending gestures" work, here turning up the corner of the flexible PaperPhone. (Source: Queen's University Human

If that smartphone or touch-screen tablet is starting to feel heavy after holding it in mid-air for a few minutes, then help is on the way. New "paper" smartphones and tablets will use flexible plastic displays and electronics light enough to wear.

A flexible Snaplet wrist-worn touch-screen tablet demo (Source: Queen's University Human Media Lab)

Most of the weight of mobile devices comes from the metal inside, where copper conductors shuttle around the electrons that make your smartphone or touch-screen tablet work. However, by switching from stiff-metal to flexible-plastic conductors, the mobile devices of the future will be feather-light, thinner, less expensive and consume tiny amounts of power compared with today.

Within the decade, according to researchers at the Queen's University Human Media Lab (Kingston, Ontario), mobile devices will resemble an "interactive sheet of paper." And to back up the boast, Human Media Lab recently showed off what is billed as the "world's first interactive paper computer."

The PaperPhone uses a thin-film display from E-Ink, but instead of marrying it to a glass substrate as is done by virtually all e-book makers, the Human Media Lab merely encapsulated it in a clear polymer. Because the entire assembly is flexible, it could be used flat or bent into a bracelet.

The PaperPhone also used its flexibility to control functions, for instance, scrolling to the next page when you flick its upper right corner. The researchers identified multiple "bend gestures," such as flexing one side forward or backward, that will be used to control actions on the screen. The current prototype uses six integrated bend sensors on the backside of the flexible E-Ink display, which is being used to explore and test new bending gestures. An FPC (flexible printed circuit), using DuPont's Pyralux flexible circuit material on which solid conductive ink was printed, was attached to the back side of the display to read the bend sensors and trigger the related on-screen functions.

The Human Media Lab also predicts that flexible PaperPhones will lead to paper touch-screen tablets and may even eliminate the need for printers, since text and images can merely be loaded onto the flexible displays that everybody is already carrying around in their pockets.
Further Reading: