23 january 2013

Paper thin, flexible tablet could revolutionize computing


(Queen's U- Human Media Lab)
Ultra-thin, flexible tablet-like computer could revolutionize how we use computers

In Kingston, Ontario, a Queen’s University development lab has created something new that could radically change computers and the way we use them.  They are calling it the “PaperTab” (paper tablet). 

Basically it’s a stand alone computer functioning as a tablet would, but an extremely thin and flexible one , like a sheet of paper.  It alos would be far more flexible in terms of its capabilities. For example,each stand-alone sheet can simple be laid beside another to create a larger contiguous screen.

While it’s still a few years from being available to consumers, it is thought that costs might be far less expensive than current tablets
The Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, is a highly innovative institution aimed at developing computing concepts several years in the future, and how they could and should function with the way we as human function when dealing with work and how we think about things.

(HML-vid grab) placing two or more tablets side by side can create a larger screen

The “Paper Tab” is a development of the fact that we like to spread documents out in front of us and be able to scan them easily with our eyes, and switch easily from one to the other as needed.

Each of the new “paper tab” computers  is a stand-alone tablet with all typical capabilities.  However, it is extremely thin, light and flexible and can be handled like a sheet of paper.  Additionally due to the unique method of production, costs are projected to be potentially much lower than current tablets. As such its likely users will want two or more to perform different tasks. An architect for example might want several, one to be typing notes on, another open on email, while two or more might be placed beside each other to show a larger scale blueprint.

Professor Roel Vertegaal, Director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's U, Kingston Ontario.

The new technology is being developed at the Human Media Lab in association with the companies Intel, and Plastic Logic.  The lab studies such things as ergonomics and usage habits.  They note that computers were supposed to create the paperless society, but that it never really happened.  In part its because –as mentioned above- facilitates multi-tasking much easier than a single computer screen with several “windows” open.  People often have documents scattered about their desks, some of which they are working on, others which are needed from time to time, and others left for future or less frequent reference.

(HML vid grab) showing how someone would use the tablets in real life, as one would use several paper documents, spread out on a desk

In studying this, the lab developed the concept of an office desk having a hot zone for immediate work directly in front of the user, a warm zone a little to the side, and a cool zone, towards the edges of a desk for the occasionally referenced work.

(HML vid grab) the "Paper Tab" functions like a current tablet computer, but with many more capabilities.

While it’s not expected to render current computers obsolete, for many users, this will be the way they will want to work in the future.
The Paper Tab is currently still in development, but could be marketed in about 5 years

(See you tube video of Paper Tab and its capabilities)

Roel Vertegaal is a professor of Human-Computer Interaction, and also the Director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab. RCI’s Marc Montgomery reached him in Kingston Ontario.
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