Press Release: Organic User Interface (OUI) Drives Future Displays of Any Shape or Form
Kingston, Ontario The shape of things to come in the computing world will be anything but flat, predicts Queen’s professor of Human-Computer Interaction Roel Vertegaal. May 31st, 2008.
Not only will our digital devices take on flexible forms we’ve never imagined – like pop cans with browsers displaying RSS feeds and movie trailers – they will respond to our direct touch and even change their own shape to better accommodate data, for example, fold up like a piece of paper to be tucked into our pockets. “Organic User Interface” – the concept behind these next-generation computers – is featured in a special issue of the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) flagship publication, Communications of ACM, to appear today. The issue is co-edited by Dr. Vertegaal and Ivan Poupyrev, a member of the Sony Interaction Laboratory in Tokyo, Japan.
“What we’re talking about here is nothing short of a revolution for human-computer interaction,” says Dr. Vertegaal, director of Queen’s Human Media Laboratory. He compares our current use of flat, rectangular computers to the 19th-century satiric novel, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, about people who live in only two dimensions and are narrow-minded as a result. “I think computers are very much like that today,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “You are essentially looking at a tiny tunnel into a flat online world, and that causes people to think in a two-dimensional way. ‘Flatland’ interfaces are incredibly limited compared to natural 3D ones.”
Three recent developments in computer technology have allowed inventors to move beyond the rigid, rectangular design of current devices. The first, advances in touch input technologies, now allow for any surface to sense two-handed, multi-finger touch. Examples of this include “smart fabrics” such as the “tank top” user interface being tested in Dr. Vertegaal’s laboratory this summer, or SmartSkin developed by another Communications of ACM author, Dr. Jun Rekimoto of Sony Computer Science Laboratories and the University of Tokyo. The second development, flexible displays, is found in the development by Philips Research in The Netherlands and MA-based E-Ink Inc., of flexible circuit boards with Organic LEDs, or “electrophoretic” ink (electronic paper). E-Ink displays are comprised of 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” it requires no further power. The flexible substrate allows the display to be rolled up and put inside one’s pocket, just like regular paper. Kinetic Organic Interfaces (KOI), the third development contributing to the computer revolution, is explored in the journal by authors Amanda Parkes, Ivan Poupyrev and Hiroshi Ishii of the MIT Media Laboratory in Cambridge, MA. Incorporating this concept, computing devices can now be built that adjust their shape according to some computational outcome, or through interactions with users. This will eventually 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 embedding it, and making it work more and more like the natural environment,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “Right now, it is still too much of a technological device, and we haven’t had the technology to truly integrate a high-resolution display in artifacts that have organic shapes: curved, flexible, textile and the like.”
Dr. Vertegaal and his team developed the world’s first completely foldable paper computer, which simulated these kinds of future displays by tracking the shape of and projecting windows onto regular sheets of paper. “By folding or turning the pages users can page up or down in a document. That is a much more natural experience than using a laptop.”
Dr. Vertegaal’s team is also developing a completely interactive Coke can. Called “Dynacan”, it has a cylindrical display that can play videos on its surface and responds to touch. Since all the electronics can be detached and recycled separately from the aluminum, “We are exploring the concept of a completely recyclable, temporary and curved computer,” says Dr. Vertegaal, adding that many of the OUI devices can be designed to be more environmentally friendly than traditional computers, because they mimicking functions now available only through physical resources like paper and use less electricity. “Instead of reading a physical paper newspaper, you simply download it onto your fold-out flexible display, which you reuse for other tasks.”
Another prototype being developed in the HML Lab, called DisplayObjects, also supports sustainability. A workbench for gadget design, it simulates a real computer on ordinary objects of arbitrary shape, like a sheet of paper or a piece of Styrofoam. When displays are projected onto the surface of the paper or Styrofoam, that surface instantly becomes a computer. The project is useful for the design of new gadgets, but could also allow hardware to be downloaded from an on-line store, avoiding the wasteful purchase of new atoms, Dr. Vertegaal notes in his article. “That would be a final frontier in the design of computer interfaces that turn the natural world into software, and software into the natural world.”
Nancy Dorrance, Queen’s News & Media Services, 613.533.2869
Molly Kehoe, Queen’s News & Media Services, 613.533.2877
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|Dynacan Cylindrical Computer Hires Image (JPG)||1.15 MB|
|Foldable Input Devices Hires Image (PNG)||3.52 MB|
|Paper Windows Hires Image (PNG)||527.11 KB|
|Interactive Blobjects Hires Image (TIFF)||5.12 MB|
|Polymer Vision Raedius Flexible E-Ink (PNG)||7.04 MB|