Researchers Investigating the Practicalities of Scroll-Like Display Devices

An intriguing display device design is under investigation by a team of researchers at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada). The team is headed by Roel Vertegaal, a Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and the Director of the Universities’ Human Media Lab.

The device is called the MagicScroll. A prototype of the device was exhibited at the MobileHCI ’18 conference recently held in Barcelona, Spain. It is described as “a digital scroll designed to function while rolled into a cylinder as well as when unrolled and extended into the form of a multitouch tablet.”

A recent article on the topic of the MagicScroll published by the team was entitled “MagicScroll: A Rollable Display Device with Flexible Screen Real Estate and Gestural Input.” A copy of the article can be found here.

The researchers offer a variety of reasons why a device containing a cylindrical display and having the ability to convert to a different shape can be advantageous. Reasons include the following. The ability to roll the display into a cylinder can allow for better and more effective use of space. A cylinder is represented as easier to hold with one hand than, say, a tablet based display device. If designed as slim as a pen and small enough to fit in a pocket, a cylindrical device could be used as a rolodex, a smartphone, a gestural controller, a dictation device or a pointing device. In addition, a cylindrical display is claimed to naturally allow “focus + context” type navigation through continuous information streams. As an example of this capability, if a user was scrolling through a long visual timeline of information and found something they wanted to look at more in-depth, they could pull the display out and use the MagicScroll more like a traditional tablet.

The prototype developed by the researchers consisted of a 7.5 inch, 2K+ resolution multitouch flexible OLED display that could be rolled or unrolled around a 3D printed cylindrical body. The cylindrical body contained all the device electronics including two Android 5.1 boards, the processor, wireless radios as well as other components typically found in a modern tablet.

Two wheels with magnetic rotary encoders were located at the ends of the cylinder and provided tangible control for scrolling through the information presented on the display. The rotary wheels contain robotic actuators that allow the device to physically move or spin in place during various use scenarios.

A built in camera and an integrated inertial measurement unit work together to provide the acceleration and rotation data necessary for use of the MagicScroll as a gesture-based control device. The MagicScroll could also provide haptic feedback to the user. In addition, the MagicScroll can detect the current configuration of the display by means of a bend sensor thus allowing display shape change to be used as a form of input. This feature supports the kind of focus + context capability previously mentioned.

The video appended to the end of this article illustrates and discusses the MagicScroll device. The figure below and to the left is the MagicScroll in the rolled condition. The figure below and to the right is the MagicScroll when the display is extended into a multitouch tablet configuration.

Left: the MagicScroll in the rolled configuration. Right: the MagicScroll extended in the tablet configuration.

The researchers used the prototype MagicScroll to explore practical aspects of the mechanical design of a rollable, dual shape display device, to experiment with device ergonomics and to investigate the practicalities of the user interface.

The researchers also investigated the gestural potentialities of MagicScroll in its rolled-up configuration by comparing it to a typical flat, mobile device. The article cited above provides a great deal of information on the set up the experiments and the results. In sum, the researchers report finding evidence that “the cylindrical form allows the intuitive execution of navigational UI tasks such as targeting and moving on-screen objects.” They go on to report that “Participant feedback also indicated the MagicScroll might afford a better grasp than a mobile phone when performing motion gestures.”

Looking towards future development of the MagicScroll, initial observations made by users suggested that the current device is somewhat oversized. In response and, as might be imagined, the team expressed hope to reduce the size. Another feature identified as needing improvement was indicated by the finding that the connectors on the flexible OLED were fragile and could deteriorate after repeated rolling and unrolling of the display. Other future work was indicated by the researchers comment that it had not been possible to investigate combining touch with rolling and unrolling actions.

The current MagicScroll is represented as a proof of concept prototype and not a device that is intended to be a product. Rather, the team represents that the MagicScroll project has allowed an examination of the notions that displays “do not have to be flat” and that “anything can become a display.” The team sees the MagicScroll prototype “as an inspirational work that demonstrates feasibility” and hopes it will “incentivize other researchers to further investigate the design space of rollable display devices.” -Arthur Berman

Queen’s University, Roel Vertegaal, [email protected]