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Fascinating Facts About Electronic Paper

Fascinating facts about electronic paper.

  • The challenge: Simultaneously present hundreds of pages of high-resolution, high-contrast images. Conventional ink on paper meets the challenge, but suffers deterioration over time and immutability after printing. And don't get us started on shipping.
  • It was the poor visual quality of computer displays of the 1970s, Nicholas Sheridon told Scientific American, that led him to seek “a display material with as many of the properties of paper as possible.”
  • It takes 15 years — until 1992 — for Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center to give Sheridon the go-ahead to start developing e-paper.
  • Gyricon, the display technology Sheridon developed at PARC, embeds millions of tiny, half-black, half-white (or other contrasting colors) beads in a thin layer of plastic. Applying voltage causes the beads to rotate, showing a black or white side to create text and images. Gyricon sheets can be used “thousands of times,” say PARC officials.
  • In 1997, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's media lab spins off E Ink Corp. to commercialize its technology, which uses a grid, embedded particles and an electric charge to create text and images. E Ink says it has raised more than $120 million in capital. But the first commercial product using the company's electronic paper display doesn't come until 2004 in an electronic reader from Sony.
  • In 1999, via a much-heralded agreement with Xerox, 3M Corp. begins producing Gyricon e-paper. Today, no mention of it is to be found on 3M's Web site.
  • Enthralled by the technology, Scientific American in 2001 predicts: “The day when Scientific American and other periodicals are routinely published in this medium may come before 2010. …”
  • Xerox spins off Gyricon LLC, which in 2003 announces its first commercial application of its SmartPaper technology, SyncroSign Message board; but it doesn't ship until 2005. The company is now defunct, says PARC.
  • In 2006, using a plastic substrate, Seiko Epson Corp. develops an A6 (4.125 inches by 5.75 inches) e-paper with a Quad XGA resolution: 1536 by 2048 pixels.
  • In January, U.K.-based Plastic Logic captures $100 million in venture capital funding to build a factory and make e-paper plastic circuits.
  • The e-paper era may be here, says Reuters. Internet companies are scanning libraries of books and putting them online, and E Ink orders are on the rise. “Nine different companies launched products last year based on the technology,” says Russell Wilcox, E Ink president. “In the last nine months, we've gone from manufacturing tens of thousands of parts to millions of parts.”
  • Damping rising hype, Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey in March tells MSNBC that without color and video capabilities, e-paper won't gain vast success.
  • E Ink announces it has been piloting a color version of its black-and-white technology. With color and video, the company's EPD could displace LCDs and, says McQuivey, “put screens on things that don't have them but could or should.”
  • Fears of global warming and decimated forests may give e-paper a boost. Each year, says the Resource Conservation Alliance in Washington , 30 million acres —about the size of Pennsylvania — of forests are lost; 300 million tons of paper are produced. The average U.S. office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper (27 pounds), and the United States consumes 4 million tons of copy paper, 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 25 billion newspapers.


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