Flexible computer displays expected within a year

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Researchers are developing flexible computer displays that will change shape, respond to touch and physics, and fold to fit users’ pockets.

The devices are based on the concept of an organic user interface, the development of which is expected to revolutionise human-computer interaction.

Organic, three-dimensional (3D) displays are expected to open doors to new innovations by making interactions between humans and computers more natural.

“For one, they [two-dimensional displays] don't show 3D graphics well, and do not allow one to interact effectively with 3D objects,” said Queen's University Computing professor Roel Vertegaal, who is developing prototypes of non-planar devices in his Human Media Laboratory.

“Second, they do not fit the environment well. For example, they cannot be folded and put in your pocket, or laid out on your desk like paper,” he told iTnews.

Currently, researchers from the Human Media Laboratory are developing flexible, electronic paper using flexible circuit boards with organic light emitting diodes (LEDs).

A computer switch controls the motion of millions of tiny, polarized ink capsules to form what are called electrophoretic ink, or E-Ink, displays.

When the display takes shape, electricity can be switched off, and the display can be rolled up and handled like regular paper.

Already, the researchers have developed an interactive soft drink can with a cylindrical display that plays videos on its surface and responds to touch.

The technology one day may give rise to aluminium cans with browsers displaying RSS feeds and movie trailers.

While Vertegaal said that flexible displays are unlikely to be cheap enough to fit a aluminium can that is currently worth about five cents, he noted the possibility that the technology may open new, potentially overwhelming advertising avenues.

“That's why it's good to start that conversation today,” he said.

Vertegaal expects the first commercially available flexible display to reach the market within a year, in the form of Polymer Vision’s Readius Rollable Cell Phone, which is a mobile phone equipped with a 5-inch roll-out display.

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