Google seems to have a thing for modular devices. The company plans to release its first modular smartphones based on Project Ara designs in early 2015, letting customers pick and choose the hardware for their phones.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is also developing modular display technology. The idea is that you’ll be able to snap together a series of smaller screens to make one big display.

By snapping together a series of screens in different configurations you could change the shape or size of your screen.

google displays

The project is reportedly headed by Mary Lou Jepsen, the designer of the sunlight readable screens used in the OLPC XO Laptop and the founder of low-power screen maker Pixel Qi.

She’s now working at Google X which is Google’s division of thinking big. While Google’s primary businesses involve search, ads and web and mobile software, the company’s also developing a series of futuristic technologies. Examples include the Project Ara modular smartphone, the Project Ara phones and tablets with 3D cameras and sensors for interacting with real-world objects and environments, self-driving cars, internet delivery by balloons, and the Google Glass wearable computer.

Clearly Google knows how to gamble on technologies that could change the future… or which could fail to make a splash at all.

The company hasn’t yet officially acknowledged Jepsen’s new display project, but the Wall Street Journal says three different people familiar with the project have confirmed its existence.

It’s not entirely clear what Google hopes to do with its stackable, modular display technology. But it’s easy to imagine some interesting possibilities:

  • Take a few computer monitors from around your house and stack them together to make a big screen TV for movie night.
  • Use a travel-sized monitor as a second display for your laptop when you’re on the road, and add it to another display or two for a larger desktop display you can use at home or in the office.
  • Turn a 4:3 display into a 16:9 or 21:9 display by adding modules on the sides.
  • Put together several phone or tablet-sized screens to make a notebook, desktop, or TV display.
  • Buy a smallish screen today and make it bigger by adding onto it in the future.

While I’m intrigued by any of these home/travel uses, the WSJ report suggests Google may be targeting enterprise customers initially. Big-screen TVs might be pretty cool to have in your house, but they could play an even bigger roll in boardrooms and classrooms of the future.

Google’s technology might allow business or education customers to customize the shapes and sizes of their screens by purchasing the modules they need instead of selecting from the limited number of existing big-screen displays available.

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2 replies on “WSJ: Google is developing modular “Lego-like” displays”

  1. This article being the only information I have on this monitor project. I don’t exactly see it working the way Brad does. Right now, you can network displays together and share an image across them or work any kind of magic with a matrix that links them all together. When I read Google is working on a modular system I reason that they are building modules that can create any size screen for commercial use in replacement of the giant LED displays currently hanging of the buildings in Times Square. It may even be applicable for an improvement on the phone/laptop ideas presented by the ASUS PadFone and Motorola WebTop.

    A long term, futuristic, approach like stacking my computer monitors on top of my tv to create a some sort of crazy A/V mosaic would be feasable and even probable to see in the next few years. However, in order for this to be a reality, Googles hardware/software solutions would need to become an industry standard for tv manufacturers in much the same way that it is necessary to have inputs for a blue-ray or even having WebTV. They may be sold within the decade but it may take a human generation cycle to effectively replace the consumers electronics with these new modules.

    I like the idea of building my own phone and I envision it working the same as a deck-building card game. Buy the expansion modules you want and stack your phone together. A deck of cards has the potential to make for a bulky phone but it would be fun and make it cost effective to upgrade your phone.

  2. Pixel Qi Corporation (pronounced Pixel “Chi”) is an American company involved in the research of low-power computer display technology, based in San Bruno, California.[1] It was founded by Mary Lou Jepsen, who was previously the chief technical officer of the One Laptop per Child project.[2]

    The company designs liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that can be largely manufactured using the existing manufacturing infrastructure for conventional LCDs. The advantage of Pixel Qi displays over conventional LCDs is mainly that they can be set to operate under transflective mode and reflective mode, improving eye-comfort, power usage, and visibility under bright ambient light.[2]

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