"I can't talk right now, I need to use my phone to blow my nose"
March 9, 2001 8:37 AM   Subscribe

"I can't talk right now, I need to use my phone to blow my nose" Paper cell phones? New and revolutionary technology that may very well change the way personal electronics are made? I think I've got goosebumps.
posted by christian (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Technology for technology's sake, my friends. That's what this is.

A PAPER phone. Really.
posted by Succa at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2001

As a former designer of cell phones, I think I'm skeptical.

This is almost certainly an AMPS phone (anything else is far more complex). AMPS is in the process of being phased out; it should be gone completely in about six more years. I'm highly skeptical about their batteries, which don't show up in any of the photos. Batteries are large and AMPS sucks power like a sewer.

I'm also highly skeptical about their stated plan to do away with chips entirely. Even an AMPS phone has to have a pretty sophisticated microprocessor in it, with substantial RAM and ROM -- say, half a million transistors minimum. How are they going to fit that much circuitry on paper without an IC?

There are other things which are irreducible which don't fit within this model, too. I think we're seeing some pretty impressive smoke and mirrors.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:13 AM on March 9, 2001

I think it's killer for marketing types, but everyone else? Dunno. The kids would like it.

Imagine finding a cell phone in your box of Cheerios!
posted by hijinx at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2001

Imagine hearing the phone ring from a box of Cheerios.......Perhaps cereal makers could broadcast advertisments.

"The result is startlingly functional and very probably will spell the death of pay phones."

Oh, I get it; vandalised vending machines dispensing paper mobiles will displace vandalised phone booths.

""I can't change what society is. We are a disposable society. Life is what it is," she said. "I didn't wake up one day and say, 'What can I do to help destroy the planet?' "

That’s the sort of "if you can't beat 'em join 'em attitude that makes mountains out of landfills.
posted by lucien at 9:46 AM on March 9, 2001

The Economist has an article about similar technology that could lead to "roll-up computers." And here I can recall eating Fruit Roll-ups as a kid. Geez.
posted by thescoop at 10:06 AM on March 9, 2001

Sounds like a complete waste. Don't we already have enough to throw out in our daily lives?
posted by jessie at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2001

Sorry, here is the correct link.
posted by thescoop at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2001

The paper computer idea has been around for a while. The proposed killer app would be computerized tax forms, which would supposedly pay for themselves by reducing filing errors. The big difference with cell phones, as stated by Steven, is that they require quite a bit of energy to transmit the signal. 60 minutes of talk time? This thing would have to have an external power supply. Otherwise, the big news here would be the breakthrough in battery technology.
Besides the obvious reservations about more landfill fodder, I'm skeptical that people will want to give up the full features (like speed dial, memory, etc.) that they have with current phones. These phones would have to target a pretty specific niche, and I don't see them replacing pay phones.
posted by gimli at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2001

The killer app I've been thinking of would be for electronic voting. Perhaps not for every single ballot, but it might be a good, inexpensive way to mass-produce voting machines.
posted by harmful at 10:56 AM on March 9, 2001

Actually, the battery's probably not a huge deal. "Flat" single-use lithium cells have been around for a number of years. Foil-wrapped, about the size of a sugar packet. Assuming the phone transmits at 300 mW, you'd probably only need about a 200 mA-hr battery (pretty small)

As for the rest of the phone, you could use chip on plastic film circuits to get the size and cost down, but the thing would still be too flimsy, lumpy and unbalanced for practical use. Maybe not today, but could happen someday.

posted by krebby at 12:07 PM on March 9, 2001

The radiated transmit power limit for AMPS is 600 mW. (Digital modes are limited to 200 mW.) In practice, an AMPS phone is going to use up to 2W during a call between parasitic heating, power for the transmitter and receiver, power for the earpiece amplifier, and the power needed for the CPU. I've seen current as high as an amp and a half (as a function of battery voltage).

However, talk time is only part of it. Presumably people buying these aren't going to be impressed with a phone which can only be used to originate a call. I think most people will assume they'll be able to receive them, too. That means leaving the phone on all the time, and standby in AMPS is really a problem because the receiver has to stay on 100% of the time (as compared to less than 2% for any digital technology, because AMPS doesn't do slotted sleep). I'm not at liberty to be specific, but you can assume about a quarter of a watt in standby, plus or minus. 24 hours (which is short, especially for a non-rechargeable battery) is 6 W-hours, more or less.

6 W-hours (about 4 A-hours, say, 22,000 joules) is a lot of energy; the only common battery technology I know capable of putting that much energy in something the size of a sugar packet is silver batteries (e.g. hearing aid batteries), and they cost too much for a $10 phone. I am not very familiar with the state of the art in one-shot lithium batteries but I know that they cost quite a lot; they're equally unlikely in a $10 phone. Rechargeable lithium batteries or any other rechargeable technology like NiMH simply don't have that kind of power density. To last 24 hours with a LiIon battery takes one the volume of about four sugar cubes at current state of the art, and they're not cheap.

For that price, about the only thing I know of which would do is alkaline, and alkaline cells will be larger and weigh more because they have to have a metal case. And they're not going to be flexible; sit on a flat one enough times and it will break open and release rather unpleasant chemicals. Also, such batteries wouldn't be rechargeable.

But if one day of standby turns this phone into a nosewipe (and once the non-rechargeable battery is dead that's all it's good for) then these aren't going to be successful. Or if they're powered off a replaceable AAA cell that will completely ruin the form-factor.

You can get away with less power if it is a digital phone, but in that case the circuitry complexity goes way up and the ASIC becomes a heck of a lot more expensive. No way anyone can sell them disposable for $10, especially since that also covers an hour of air-time.

I'm wondering how you make microwave waveguides on paper (or equivalently thin and flexible substrate). I'm also wondering if they really think they can produce FETs with the right characteristics by printing them; this is a non-trivial problem since unlike bipolar transistors FETs rely very heavily on geometries. They've got to be very small because they rely on electrical fields. The larger they are, the slower they are and the more power they use, and I don't think any big enough to see could handle microwave frequencies.

Also conspicuous by its absence in the pictures was any kind of antenna. Without one (which should be about 5 inches long; dipole length on the order of 9 inches at 800 MHz) you're going to give away about 3dB (about 50%) in signal strength, which will lead to more dropped calls and will negatively impact battery life.

I would feel a lot more confident in the report if the reporter had been knowledgeable in this technology. I have a suspicion that the phone wasn't actual sales-configuration. I would bet that they were using a silver battery in it, which they can't possibly afford to do in manufacturing.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:10 PM on March 9, 2001

I think a lot of people would carry a disposable phone that was only capable of making calls.
posted by sudama at 1:28 AM on March 10, 2001

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