Get ready for the iBall - Disney breakthrough could lead to round phones and realistic robot eyes

Disney has found a way to 3D print tiny spherical screens - and gadgets may never be the same shape again

Forget flexible screens, Disney's research lab has invented a new 3D printing process that can make tiny, round screens that could lead to a new generation of spherical gadgets. 

The firm has even worked out how to make the text readable on a round screen, meaning even apps could be usable - and raising the prospect of round phones, and screens far more curved that the flexible screens currently being shown off by Samsung and LG.

The Mickey Mouse creator’s research lab has unveiled the new 3D printing technique, and says will initially be used to create children’s toys with realistic eyes.

It uses ‘light pipes’ to print tiny round screens that are being used as eyes for a series of Disney toys.

However it admits the technique could also be used in other gadgets - and even be used to create prosthetic eyes for humans.

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Called Papillon, Disney showed off the technique at the SIGGRAPH conference with three small toys, Beep, Boop and their dog-like pet Igg.

The characters had wildly expressive eyes, and responded to the gestures of human visitors.

‘Papillon is a technology that is scalable and flexible,’ said Ivan Poupyrev, a senior research scientist who leads the interaction team at Disney Research Pittsburgh.

The team say it could first be used in toys.

‘We envision it being used for building interactive toys, supplemental characters for videogames, robots or perhaps eventually even human prosthetic eyes.’

‘One of our goals was to create minimal displays, to figure out how much resolution do you really need to express emotion,” said Eric Brockmeyer, a Disney Research Pittsburgh research associate who worked on the project. ‘It turns out you really don’t need that much to convey a compelling interactive experience.’

'The advent of 3D printing, however, has made it possible to create customized optical elements, or “printed optics,' Disney said.

'These elements include such structures as light pipes, which can direct and bend light much like a fiber optical element.

'Papillon can thus enable video projection in even small characters and at a fraction of the cost of bundled fiber optic.

To make sure images on the round screen aren't distorted, the team developed an algorithm based on Fibonacci spirals that minimizes distortions - meaning your emails, text messages and apps could be shown on the round screen and remain usable.