In ancient times, people read from rolled-up papyrus scrolls. Today, many of us read from flat tablets. Scientists at Canada's Queen's University have now combined aspects of the two, in the potentially-quite-handy MagicScroll.

The prototype device was developed by a team led by Dr. Roel Vertegaal (who has previously brought us a flexible smartphone, among other things), from Queen's Human Media Lab.

It consists of a flexible 7.5-inch 2K touchscreen flexible OLED display, which is rolled around a 3D-printed cylinder that contains the rest of the electronics. Using two rotary wheels located on either end of the cylinder, users can scroll through onscreen content while the display is still rolled up. When they get to something they want to take a closer look at, though, they pull the display out flat, allowing it to be used like a traditional full-screen tablet.

That's not all, though, as the MagicScroll has some other interesting features that come into play when it's rolled up.

For one, it has a digital camera in one end, allowing it to serve as a Wiimote-like gesture-based control device. It can also be used as a mobile phone or voice recorder, plus because its two rotary wheels are motorized, it could conceivably perform actions such as spinning around on the spot to alert users when it receives notifications.

Additionally, its light weight and cylindrical form factor are claimed to make it easier to hold onto than a traditional tablet, plus it can be carried in a pants pocket when not in use.

"Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket," says Vertegaal. "More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that 'screens don't have to be flat' and 'anything can become a screen.' Whether it's a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we're exploring how objects can become the apps."

The team will present their paper (PDF) detailing the MagicScroll at the MobileHCI conference taking place in Spain this week. The device is demonstrated in the video below.

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