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Future of Electronic Paper: What's in Store?

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 2/19/2011

Electronic paper is technology that allows for flexible and rewritable display. The concept is still in an infancy stage of development, with path breaking changes threatening to change the way we read and write. Read on for an overview of the future of electronic paper.

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    Electronic papers haFuture of Electronic Paper ve come a long way since Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) invented the Gyricon in 1970. The electronic papers in vogue today, such as Kindle’s e-reader uses the more advanced Electrophoretic frontplane technology, developed by the e-ink Corporation. This technology, while having a contrast that bears close resemblance to a printed sheet of paper, does not have the characteristics of real paper and resembles LCD screens more than paper. The display screen uses a rigid substrate panel that breaks on falling down and does not fold.

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    ChLCD Technology

    The future of electronic paper is Cholesteric liquid crystal (ChLCD), developed by companies such as IBM, Philips, HP, and Fujitsu.

    ChLCD is an advanced electronic ink technology based on the technology used for LCD display. This electronic paper technology scores over earlier technologies in that it provides more flexibility, is lighter, offers better brightness, contrast and resolution, displays more vivid color, and has a superior refresh rate, capable of displaying animation and video. At 0.8 millimeters, it closely resembles ordinary paper in thinness as well. An added advantage is the minimal power requirement, with the display preserving even when switched off, and the possibility of tapping the entire power requirements from the sun’s rays or ambient room lighting.

    The unmatched advantages of ChLCD electronic paper technology makes it poised to become the dominant electronic paper technology in the near future.

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    The major disadvantage of electronic paper today, is the rigid glass screen electronic paper display, that does not allow the full functionality and versatility of an ordinary piece of paper. The future of electronic paper is the e-sheet that uses ChLCD technology and replaces the rigid glass screen with a virtually indestructible paper-thin plastic electronic paper display.

    The possibilities with e-sheets are immense. The e-book of tomorrow using e-sheets, will resemble an i-Pad with magazine quality display that users can roll up and put into their pockets, which charges by itself, and which can be dropped or washed without damaging its ultra-thin and flexible casing.

    One prototype of such an e-sheet is the Fuji Photo-Addressable Electronic Paper presently under development by Fuji Xerox. The use of thin, lightweight film substrates, and the absence of power supply and drive circuits, make this electronic paper resemble actual paper more than a LCD screen. The image displays through the irradiation of an external optical pattern, on the uniform application of a voltage pulse. Such electronic paper, apart from its striking resemblance to ordinary paper, also provides a host of superior features such as allowing copying of the displayed digital information to another medium, and freely sharing the paper with others.

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    The possible applications of e-sheets are endless, and range from providing interactive packaging that displays selective information about a product or operating instructions, to personal digital notebooks with built-in web-browsers, from course books with annotation and word-processing functions, to etch-a-sketch type scribble and erase notepads.

    The success of the e-sheet however faces commercial obstacles. Xerox, for instance closed down its Gyricon e-paper display business in 2005, unable to source backplane technology at less than $10 per sq.ft., beyond which price the project did not meet commercial viability.

    The future of electronic paper depends on the ability of ChLCD technology and e-sheets to allow electronic paper to handle information in a natural and human manner. Success in such counts has the potential to affect a paradigm shift in the way we read, write, and store information; just as the making of papyrus and the invention of printing press changed the way of doing things and altered the face of civilization.

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    1. Koshimizu, Minoru. "The Past, Present, and Future of Electronic Paper." Retrieved 11 February 2011.
    2. NonoWerk. "Researchers predict the future of electronic paper devices." Retrieved 11 february 2011.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons