A moveable, flexible display made of paper

September 12, 2013

Human organs shimmer in red on a sheet of paper displaying a longitudinal view of the human abdomen. The spinal column and pelvic bones form contrasting yellow islands. As the sheet of paper is bent downwards at the ends, the bones appear to come into the foreground while the soft tissue recedes. (Credit: Jürgen Steimle)

Flexpad transforms a standard sheet of paper into a moveable, flexible display.

The technology was developed in the “Flexpad” research project under the leadership of Jürgen Steimle in the MIT Media Lab and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, in cooperation with Kiel University.

“We routinely deform objects intuitively in many different ways. We bend back pages in books, deflate balls, fold paper, and sculpt clay,” explains Jürgen Steimle.

“By projecting user interface elements onto tangible, deformable objects we can control computers and other technical devices better and more easily.”

How it works

“We use a projector that reproduces an image or a video on a sheet of paper,” says Steimle, “and Kinect depth camera, which records the hands and paper to determine their position in space.” The projector and camera are mounted in the ceiling above the user.

The researchers have developed two algorithms. The first initially subtracts out the interference caused by the fingers and hands of the user. If the user moves the paper left or right or bends it into an arc or wavy form, the camera senses this. A specially developed computer model subsequently describes these movements in fractions of a second, so that the projector can reproduce it on the sheet in near real time.

“Practical uses of this innovation include analysis of volumetric images in medical and geological applications, very intuitive animation software for children, and computer games,”  Steimle told KurzweilAI. “The technology can be used immediately, as it requires only inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware.”