Paperphone Prototype Shows Off Flexible Computers

by | May 5, 2011 09:21 AM ET

While we marvel over the latest smartphones, video game consoles and computers, engineers are hard at work designing the next generation of computing devices. One area of focus is in flexible computers. We've seen examples of this in wearable technology, in which conductive thread carries signals through fabric. You may one day wear clothing that serves as a computing device. Another application is the OLED screen -- the organic light emitting diode allows for some creative engineering. Using the right plastics and and metallic foils, engineers can build flexible OLED displays that can wrap around corners or roll into a tube. And then there's the Paperphone.

First, I have to thank Stuff You Should Know's Josh Clark for the heads up on the Paperphone. Josh sent me an e-mail with a link to a very interesting press release. For one thing, the release eschewed the use of capital letters. But more importantly, the content of the release showed a thin, flexible display that could interpret physical manipulation as commands. In other words, by bending or pressing the display in different ways, a user can navigate a fully-customizable and definable user interface.

The device uses an electronic ink display. These displays don't consume much power, meaning battery life should be great. But they also aren't the best display for displaying any sort of animation or video. The device also relies on flexible circuits to carry commands to the processor. That's what allows the Paperphone to be so flexible -- there aren't any brittle electronic elements behind the screen.

Could this be the future of electronics? Might we abandon solid, inflexible devices like smartphones and laptops in favor of material we can fold or roll up? It would make packing for trips a lot easier. The technology holds a great deal of promise. We'll have to wait a few years and see if it will succeed the current standard for electronics. In the meantime, here's a video of the Paperphone in action:

And, just for fun, here's another video showing off a wrist-mounted computing device:

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