A Canadian research team has beaten Nokia and other phone companies to create the first working prototype of a paper-thin and paper-like moblie device, which features a touch-sensitive bendable surface that could replace today’s standard flat touch screen.
The “PaperPhone” is a thin piece of translucent film similar to a conference badge, with copper circuits and wiring and a layer of E Ink, also used in Amazon’s Kindle eReader. “Bend sensors” behind the screen detect and interpret what a user is trying to do — curling the page to make a phone call, flipping a corner to turn a page or writing on the film with a pen.
“This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years,” boasts Roel Vertegaal, director of Canada’s Queen’s University Human Media Lab, which developed the prototype.
Researchers around the world have been working for almost a decade to develop paper-like computer products, and to advance technology to the point that it could be embedded in clothing. Last year, for example, Nokia’s Nokia Research Center reported on its efforts to develop stretchable electronic “skin” using nanotechnology that could potentially be used to make a phone molded to and worn on the body, or another electronic device integrated into clothing.
The PaperPhone is approximately the same display size, and with the same functions, as today’s standard smartphones, and it runs on Google’s Android operating system.
Vertegaal, who plans to demonstrate the PaperPhone at a conference in Vancouver next week, says the phone won’t likely be ready for market for at least five years. But once in production, because it doesn’t require manual assembly and only the use of a specially designed printer, it could sell for less than $100.
Vertegaal’s PaperPhone looks good on paper, but questions remain as to its durability and design. While it may be harder to break if dropped than your typical smartphone today, it may be too easy to crease, which would break it all the same.
And while it’s meant to be a lot thinner and lighter, the PaperPhone is just not quite as sleek or chic as the iPhone. A cumbersome rigid casing on the left side houses the battery, processor and memory. Flexible versions of those parts are still early in the development stage.
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