An image scanner built into a piece of flexible plastic little bigger than a credit card has been developed in Japan.

The idea is that you will plug the scanner into a mobile phone which will both provide power for it and act as its display and storage medium. And because it is flexible, it will let you copy just about anything, even if it is on a curved surface such as an open book or the label on a wine bottle.

The lightweight device, unveiled last week at an electronics conference in San Francisco, is the latest development in the field of flexible organic electronics, which exploits the electronic properties of conducting plastics.

Light-emitting plastics are already being used in flexible computer displays, and organic LED-based TV screens are in development. But the new flexible scanner is using light-sensitive organic components instead of light-generating ones.

The new device, developed in Japan by electrical engineer Takao Someya and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, comprises a polymer matrix in which thousands of light-sensitive plastic photodiodes have been deposited 700 micrometres apart beneath a grid of plastic transistors.

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