If you're of the age to remember watching "Inspector Gadget" cartoons as a child, you might recall that Gadget's daughter, Penny, never left home without carrying a computer book along. The device looked like a book, with paper-thin pages, but when she opened it, each page was really a touchscreen computer.

Now thanks to a group of pioneer inventors, the childhood fantasy of owning your own computer book may have become a reality, according to the Queens University News Centre.

The technology is made possible due to the development of thin, flexible electronics and specialized bend sensors. Computer books are just one possible application of the technology. A whole suite of bendable devices, such as flexible smartphones, mp3 players, tablets or e-readers, are already in development. The smartphone prototype, called the PaperPhone, is basically a flexible iPhone and is on display in the video shown above.

"This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years," said creator Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen’s University Human Media Lab. "This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it into a cellphone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen."

The PaperPhone prototype has a display which consists of a 9.5 centimeter diagonal thin film flexible E-Ink display. Aside from its flexibility, light weight and easy portability, the paper-like screen can also receive input based upon how it is bent. This allows for a whole new range of ergonomic, convenient controls that make flat and rigid touchscreens seem like ancient stone tablets in comparison.

The technology may also spell the end of paper and printers, as flexible computers could provide an invaluable commodity for any office looking to be more environmentally friendly. They're also designed to be energy efficient and use no power when nobody is interacting with them.

"The paperless office is here. Everything can be stored digitally and you can place these computers on top of each other just like a stack of paper, or throw them around the desk" said Vertegaal.

Developers have even designed a thinfilm wristband computer called Snaplet, which could usher in a new generation of wearable computers and electronics. Why risk your smartphone falling from your pocket or getting lost? With thinfilm technology, you can wear your phone right on your wrist.

Vertegaal is set to officially unveil his paper computer at the Association of Computing Machinery’s Computer Human Interaction conference in Vancouver on May 10, which is the the premiere international conference of Human-Computer Interaction.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

New paper computer could lead to flexible smartphones
These light, flexible computers are like an office that fits in your pocket, and could eventually make paper and printers obsolete.