Mind & Matter


Paperphone Offers Technological Breakthrough

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Paperphone E-ink based thin film computer. Photo courtesy of the Human Media Lab, Queen’s University Canada.


In the race to produce more technologically advanced products, manufacturers often compete in an incremental game to coax small gains out of similar materials and fabrication techniques. In the smartphone wars, for example, the NEC Medias currently holds the record for thinnest phone at 7.7mm thick. Although this kind of evolutionary development characterizes much of the change in the consumer-electronics arena, truly captivating breakthroughs involve fundamental shifts in the materials used and they way in which they are applied.

The Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, for example, has recently developed a smartphone using flexible thin-film and electronic ink. Entitled the “Paperphone,” the device exhibits similar functionality to commercially available smartphones at a fraction of the thickness, and easily conforms to the shape of a user’s hand or pocket. Although current prototypes only render black and white, Human Media Lab researchers predict that this format will define the future of smartphone technology.

"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper,” claims HML director Roel Vertegaal. “You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years."

As electronic ink-based technology becomes more widely available, it will enable the development of interactive veneers, coatings, and wall coverings for communications-driven architectural applications.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.