In this fast changing world flexibility is an advantage, to bend and not break. Scientists have finally combined all of the flexible technologies – flexible display, flexible computer, flexible electronics – with bend sensors that enable bend gestures. This is truly interactive paper, not just interactive pixels. Scientists from the Human Media Lab at Canada’s Queens University have developed the natural extension to the flexible computer, the flexible interface. Called the PaperPhone – even though its made of plastic and is more computer than phone – this prototype is the first device to bring all of the technologies together. Combining all of the functionality of a smart phone – very basic though – into a sheet of plastic with bend sensors, the future is here.
A number of standard gestures have been created, bend the corner of the page just as you do when turning a book’s page and the e-book turns the page or bend two edges to switch task. If the standard gestures aren’t enough the PaperPhone can be trained to recognize new gestures, then perform actions in response to the gestures. The current PaperPhone combines the kinds of interaction we are used to, tactile input like touch screens, pen input, touch screen gestures as well as adding the new layer of interaction, the bend. This is a complimentary technology to the existing standards and may well be the future of gadget input.
The display is a flexible E-Ink plastic display – similar to the display on most e-book readers -, critical to allowing the PaperPhone to flex and bend. 5 Flexpoint bidirectional bend sensors pick up any flexing and software analyses the movements, just like touch screens it can be programmed to react only to complex movements which eliminates accidental actions being input. The hardware itself is a collaborative effort between Arizona State University which brought the display technology and know how, Canada’s Queens University Human Media Lab enabled the interactive nature of the device.
At one point in the demonstration video the PaperPhone is used while wrapped around the wrist watch style. It makes much more sense once you see it held like a floppy tablet that you can twist and contort. The display while held in this way can be written on with a stylus and new pages ready at the bend of a corner, no clumsy menus.
“This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years,” says creator Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen’s University Human Media Lab,. “This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen.”
Scientists have been working on different forms of bend gesturing for many years. Previous tests used paper with images projected and plastic with bend sensors but no display. The early work all set the foundation for this new technology, but it was the recent availability of flexible displays, electronics and bend sensors that enabled the fully functional PaperPhone.
Roel Vertegaal director of the Human Media Lab at Queens University also has many other projects testing out new forms of interaction. Textiles with embedded displays have been turned into video game displays to great effect, roll-able mobile phones, magnetic curtains. There are some imaginative people testing ideas in the lab. The Snaplet is another bend gesture enabled device from the lab, although more of a tablet design.
This new kind of interaction is all about Human interaction, just like the Kinect this is a natural human kind of interaction, not humans adapting to computer inputs like keyboards and mice. It’s a brave new interactive world, bending is the new black.
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