Professor invents paper-thin phone

Roel Vertegaal designs prototype of a flexible smartphone after working on it for seven years

Users of the flexible smartphone can bend corners to perform different actions like playing music, taking notes and making phone calls. The phone could be on the market within 10 years.
Users of the flexible smartphone can bend corners to perform different actions like playing music, taking notes and making phone calls. The phone could be on the market within 10 years.

A revolutionary smartphone that looks and bends like a piece of paper has brought international acclaim to a Queen’s professor.

Roel Vertegaal, associate professor at the school of computing, spearheaded the 9.5 cm invention.

The product is made of a tall flexible slip of plastic which uses E- ink to display text just like a Kindle reader. Currently the PaperPhone can make calls, take notes, and plays music only when connected to a laptop. Users must bend different corners of the device to perform these actions.

“You can curve [flexible smartphones] around, you can use them as if they were paper, and thus you can copy some of the interaction techniques,” Vertegaal said, adding that this will hopefully help those who are uncomfortable interacting with technology. Vertegaal is also the director of Queen’s Media Lab. A prototype of the flexible smartphone was revealed by Vertegaal and his team at a May 10 conference in British Columbia. It took $7,000 to create and was the result of collaboration between Queen’s and Arizona State University.

“We’ve been working [on this for] seven years,” Vertegaal said. “We’re having a lot of fun and [we’re] working with the top industrial designers.” Vertegaal said apps are a thing of the past and smartphones like iPhone won’t be able to match his product.

“These new smartphones will be thinner [and have a] lighter weight. They don’t break when you drop them,” he said.

Although Vertegaal’s creation is a revolution in smart technology, there is no current market for his device which will take five to 10 years to fully develop.

“Within 10 years there will be a market for it,” he said, adding that he expects his paper-like screen to replace the common LCD screen.

“It will happen within 10 years and possibly as early as five years. It’s hard to tell.”

Vertegaal said he’s already received offers from companies who want to buy the rights to the smartphone. “Eventually it’s going to be for sale,” he said. “Whether it’ll be us putting it [up] for sale or someone else is unclear.”

The work being done by the Human Media Lab has brought international attention to Queen’s School of Computing.

Vertegaal said that while people can be apprehensive about the increasing use of technology, his lab within the School of Computing aims to make technology easy and interactive.

“It’s been great running a design laboratory out of Queen’s,” he said. “What I would like for this to mean … is to get a tech hub surrounding Queen’s,” he said.

A research-based institution

Hundreds of professors have been recognized for inventions and research conducted while at Queen’s. Here’s a short list:

• Roel Vertegaal also invented Eyebox2, a portable device that monitors eye movements to track how many people view advertiser’s billboards and screens.

•Andrew Craig, a professor who works in the department of biochemistry and the Cancer Research Institute has discovered a protein that can halt the spread of breast cancer cells.

• Rany Shamloul, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pharmacology and toxicology, led a research project that found cell phone use can lead to lower fertility and sperm quality.

• Chemistry professor Philip Jessop invented a solvent that when combined with carbon dioxide, extracts oil from soybeans. The solvent aims to recycle carbon dioxide to make it into something helpful rather than harmful.

• Anatomy and cell biology professor Stephen Scott invented the Kinesiological Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movement (KINARM.) The device can be used to study the cognitive, motor and sensory functions of the brain and is the only objective tool for assessing brain function.

• Joshua Pearce, professor of mechanical and materials engineering, is currently leading a project to investigate how weather conditions impact the effectiveness of solar panels.

• Professor of chemical engineering, anatomy and cell biology Lauren Flynn led a research team that extracts stem cells from body fat. This project could result in soft-tissue reconstruction and tissue-engineered cartilage or bone.

Katherine Fernandez-Blance

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