According to the Human Media Lab website, the PaperTab "emulates the natural handling of multiple sheets of paper by combining thin-film display, thin-film input and computing technologies through intuitive interaction design." PaperTabs "keep track of their location relative to each other" and their user. That seems like some kind of proximity sensor, as does the description of distance determining a PaperTab's active (full window) or inactive (icon) status.
"The location of each PaperTab is tracked on a desk using an electromagnetic tracker," according to the narration on the video. That's an interesting idea. Locational electromagnetic tracking systems are used in military applications and computer-assisted surgery, as well as kinematic research, such as motion tracking. I still don't get how the data moves from one PaperTab to another, and the consortium is not saying. What's hidden in the video is where users plug in all the PaperTabs under the desk. Perthaps that's some kind of communication and/or processing hub.
The PaperTabs can file and display thousands of paper documents, and the displays use E-ink, so they use very low power. The version used in the demos has a 150ppi screen pixel density displaying 16 levels of grays.
I am impressed by the work Plastic Logic is doing. I just wish it would find a manufacturing partner, so we can start using this totally cool, nifty technology sooner rather than later.
If I'm understanding this right, it should relieve the "eye crunch" of having to look at and consume myriad information adn files on a tablet screen...is that correct, Ann? That would be cool, though I'm not sure what to do with all of that intelligent paper!
Elizabeth, this does not reduce the number of windows you have to look at for a given app and a given task. It makes it possible to lay them out like sheets of paper, each of which can access multiple windows. I suggest checking out the video--this is tough to describe in words.
Ah, OK, Ann, I will take your advice! It did seem like a difficult thing to describe but you did a very good job of it anyway. Still sounds quite intriguing; I am sure the video will answer my remaining questions.
OK, so I watched the video and this still seems rather complicated! Maybe it's just something you have to use to understand...still seems like there is a little bit too much of a "paper" trail for this to be practical...but that's just an opinion! It is just a prototype, after all, so perhaps it will be a bit more streamlined by the time it's ready for commercial release. Still quite interesting to see what's being hatched by clever minds!
Ann, forgive me if I missed this in the article, but if this went into production and I wanted to buy one, would I be able to choose how many PaperTabs I wanted or is there a set amount? Does it come with a certain number and then you can add to it? Or, am getting ahead of myself here?
This devices seems like a bit of a stretch, considering toggling screens in a regular tablet (iPad, etc.) is fairly simple. Isn't the point of a tablet the portability factor? Am I missing something?
Happy to see I'm not the only one confused by the value of this technology...again, it's probably why it's a prototype! Maybe feedback will convince the company to change the design a bit or come up with more of a value proposition. I think it was certainly worthwhile for Ann to cover, though, as it has us all scratching our heads over it! And it shows people thinking of new ways to extend the function of tablets, which are quickly becoming ubiquitous.
The advantages are being able to lay out documents on a table, as we can do when they're made of paper, instead of having to look at everything sequentially on one screen. I have often wished to be able to do this, especially with long technical documents. Anyone who writes or does hands-on editing of such documents--words or drawings--could appreciate this, as could an R&D team that collaborates on same.
In other words. The advantage of this system is about the same as having a tablet screen that is 3 feet by 4 feet (roughly the size of a desktop). Honestly, I think I would prefer the latter. Especially if I could roll it up and take it with me.
I'm sure it's just a prototype to show the possibilities with a finished product being wireless. I really love interfaces that mimic the way we currently work, but doing it with new technology and this is an excellent example.
Ann, What is your take on the ability of a device like this to provide a good level of reliability? The idea is intriguing but it's difficult to foresee how it would handle the heavy stresses of daily use.
I wonder if they would survive the dropped stapler test? It's an interesting technology. It looks like they've put quite a bit of thought into it. The ability to transfer data from one page to another by touching them together is cool. Unfortunately, I don't see these helping most people get their work done. I would like to see a Pen computer with a roll-up screen. Something about the size of a Sharpie with a touch screen that is semi-rigid when unrolled. Maybe someday soon.
Good question, Al. E-paper display technologies have been around for several years, at least in a prototype stage like this one. The flexible plastic display substrates and flexible plastic electronics are surprisingly sturdy, from what I saw years back when covering the subject. Some are being used now in flexible sports and health monitoring "watches", which sounds like at least some of these materials must be pretty rugged.
I really like this idea because it's intuitive and replicates what we are all used to doing. The only downside I see is that the system is presently tethered with quite a few cables. If they could reduce the system down to be wireless I think they would have a fantastic system. Of course, it means we'll all be going back to having an overly cluttered desk.
Think of them as a single large sheet of paper (say, C or D sized) that you could unfold or unroll. The individual sheets may still be connected via the cables, but they'd be unobtrusive, I would think.
Several science fiction authors (Robert Heinlein in "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" comes to mind first) describe such displays. In Heinlein's the two characters "unroll a game board" to while away some time.
Thanks, Ann. The technology is definitely interesting but between the flexible tablet and connector interfaces, I guess I'm somewhat skeptical it will emerge given the competition already in the marketplace. Thanks.
Al, the possible lack of connector strength is a really good point. We've seen several issues before with lack of connector strength. I would guess that the issues described in this article on mobile medical connectors would be equally applicable here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=255424
I agree it looks interesting, but I disagree on the company's definition of 'Intuitive'. Bending a page backward to flip pages is not really obvious, nor is folding / dog-earing for fast forward and reverse on video. But I digress.
The movie makes it seem like the desk is an important part of this invention. As in, it's the desk that knows where the pages are in relation to each other, not the paper itself. To me, that's a huge limitation. That's not portable, even a little bit. I think instead they should make an electronic binding, like a regular book, with all interconnects in the 'spline', and the CPUs/WiFi in the front or back 'cover'. It could probably be as think as two kindles, and then be useful and portable. But this is an interesting device, all in all.
DBrunermer, as we mentioned in the story, it's not clear how data is being transferred between one window and another. Since we can't see under the table, it's possible that there's some kind of hub where all the cables go where they communicate with each other, or it's possible there's some kind of wireless communication, possibly facilitated by electromagnetic tracking.
Ann--this is definitely the coolest technology I have seen this month. I did go to the web site to take a look at the video. The most remarkable feature, in my opinion, is the ability to drag and drop from one tab to another. Another great feature is touching a document or picture to create an attachment. I did not see any indication from the text in the web site as to when the product might become commercially available but I would suspect it will be a hit when launched. Great post
This does seem like a cool step in this technology. It certainly employs a unique interface for common tasks. I'm reminded of all the developments that have evolved from keyboard, to mouse, to touch-screen for "conventional" computers. This form factor has created a whole new level of potential user interactions which will likely develop as the technology does. Very interesting - thanks for the article and the video.
Good point, Scott. The mouse itself was a huge step in the direction of making computers accessible to non-engineers, as well as widening their use for everyone. This could be seen as another paradigm breaker in user interfaces.
bobjengr, glad you enjoyed seeing this. I totally agree about moving items from one tab to another being the coolest part--and the hardest to explain. So far, this is described as a concept and a prototype, and neither the company--or Queen's U--has indicated that they intend to develop it commercially. But I hope they do.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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