The idea of electronic paper — flexible, portable, interactive display technology — has been around for several decades now. The first commercial applications began cropping up in the mid-1990s, with many wide-eyed promises about the future of digital, foldable (and possibly disposable) newspapers and magazines.
That future hasn’t come to pass quite yet, but a new prototype device out of the Human Media Lab at Canada’s Queen’s University is heading in an interesting direction.
Billed as a “multi-display shape-changing smartphone,” the PaperFold mobile device uses three flexible electrophoretic (e-ink) display sheets that users can arrange into various configurations. When you need more digital real estate, you pull out the additional screens like a foldout map.
PaperFold automatically adjusts the function of its three detachable viewports to match its shape. Fold two screens into a mini-laptop shape, for instance, and the bottom portion turns into a touchscreen keyboard.
The PaperFold project page provides another for-instance: Say you’re looking up an address on Google Maps. Flatten the viewports into a three-panel horizontal display, and PaperFold switches to a widescreen map spanning all three sheets. Fold the displays into a three-dimensional wedge, and Paperfold gives you a 3-D street view of the building. Bend it into a convex globe shape, and you get a Google Earth view.
The inspiration for the device is, naturally, paper itself, according to Human Media Lab director Roel Vertegaal: “It allows … for mobile tasks that require large screen real estate or keyboards on demand, while retaining an ultra-compact, ultra-thin and lightweight form factor.”
As you can see from the image above and the video below, PaperFold is in a very early prototype phase. Right now, the device looks about as light and compact as a ’73 Buick. But the idea of a fold-out smartphone display is certainly an intriguing notion. Updates as events warrant.
Credit: Queen’s University Human Media Lab