Next-generation computers may use displays with any shape

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Washington, June 3 : Flat screen displays currently used in computer monitors could soon become a thing of the past, for they will soon take flexible forms as we've never imagined.

The concept behind these next-generation computers - 'Organic User Interface'- is that the shape of things to come in the computer world will be anything but flat, says Queen's University Computing professor Roel Vertegaal, who is developing prototypes of these new 'non-planar' devices in his Human Media Laboratory.

Computers of the future will not only change their own shape to better accommodate data, for example, folding up like a piece of paper to be tucked into our pockets but will also respond to our direct touch.

"What we're talking about here is nothing short of a revolution for human-computer interaction," said Dr. Vertegaal, of Sony Interaction Laboratory in Tokyo, Japan.

Three recent developments in computer technology enabled inventors to move beyond the rigid, rectangular design of current devices.

Advances in touch input technologies now allow for any surface to sense two-handed, multi-finger touch. An example of this is smart fabric, such as the 'tank top' user interface being tested in Dr. Vertegaal's laboratory this summer.

The second development, flexible displays, is found in flexible circuit boards with organic LEDs (light emitting diodes) used to make electronic paper.

These 'E-Ink' (electrophoretic ink) displays are formed from millions of tiny, polarized ink capsules, half black and half white.

A computer switch sends out minus or plus voltages and the ink will either attract or repel to form a display.

Once the display is painted the electricity can be switched off.

The flexible base layer allows the display to be rolled up and put inside ones pocket, like regular paper.

The third development, Kinetic Organic Interface (KOI), enables the design of computers that adjust their shape according to some computational outcome, or through interactions with users.

This is expected to yield 'Claytronic' 3D displays capable of displaying not just pictures, but physical shapes in three dimensions.

"We want to reduce the computer's stranglehold on cognitive processing by imbedding it and making it work more and more like the natural environment," Vertegaal said.

"It is too much of a technological device now, and we haven't had the technology to truly integrate a high-resolution display in artifacts that have organic shapes: curved, flexible and textile, like your coffee mug," Vertegaal added.

The concept of the next generation computers is featured in the June issue of the Association of Computer Machinery's (ACM) flagship publication, Communications of ACM.

ANI

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