10 Interesting Facts About Electronic Paper

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December 2, 2010

This is a guest post by James Adams, a writer who works at CartridgeSave the online supplier of printer ink in the UK.

The invention of electronic paper is considered by some to be as significant an innovation as the invention of the printing press. With modern data storage technologies, thousands of books could be contained within a mere computer chip. Today, E-readers that aid the reading of ebooks are growing in popularity – produced and sold by companies such as Sony, Apple, and Amazon. Here are 10 interesting facts about electronic paper you maybe never knew before.

  1. Electronic paper technology has actually been almost forty years in the making. It was in the 1970s, due to the poor quality of computer displays at the time, that the concept first began to take shape. The Cathode-ray tube (CRT) was so dim, that users were forced to work in darkened rooms, with lights off and shades drawn to block out daylight.
  2. The first answer to the issue of these dim screens was an invention by an employee of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center – which is credited with creation of the mouse, laser printer, computer-generated color graphics and others. The employee, Nicholas Sheridon, would invent the Gyricon, paper comprised of millions of polyethylene spheres between 75 and 106 micrometres in diameter embedded in a thin layer of plastic. Voltage would cause rotation, which in turn created text and images.
  3. The Gyricon’s name was derived from a Greek term for a rotating image. Though created in 1974, the inventor, Sheridon, would finally receive a green light from the Palo Alto Research Center to begin development of e-paper in 1992. Though Gyricon operations closed 2005, the invention marks the beginning of today’s modern e-paper technologies.
  4. In 1998, the first ebook Readers, Rocket ebook and Softbook, were launched. Softbook’s memory could be expanded to 64 megabytes, enough for up to 100,000 pages. A rechargeable battery permitted up to five hours of reading time, with a two-hour recharge time. The product cost about $600.
  5. The earliest e-readers did not officially utilize electronic ink, however. Rather, they relied upon a back-lit flat panel display. Electronic ink technology works by applying an electric field to particles of titanium dioxide, each one micrometre (one millionth of a meter) in diameter. This technology, which behaves like paper and consumes relatively little energy, powers today’s high resolution e-readers.
  6. This nanoparticle-based ink was invented by MIT media lab professor Joseph Jacobson in the 1990s. A co-founder of E Ink corporation, a partner of various companies such as Sony, Motorola and Amazon.com, which was purchasd in 2009 by Prime View International. Experts believe the transaction should provide the financial backing to speed the development of the first color e-paper.
  7. In 2006, the Seiko Epson corporation developed e-paper made from a plastic substrate. Measuring 4.125 inches by 5.75 inches, the paper achieves a resolution of 1536 by 2048 pixels. In September of 2010, a prototype flexible e-ink screen from Sony, also utilizing a plastic construction, is put on display in Japan.
  8. In addition to readers, there are numerous other potential applications of e-paper technology, such as new labeling methods; one of the original uses of the Gyricon e-ink was in billboards. E-paper displays could also conceivably be used as low-power digital screens for a variety of electronic appliances.
  9. The threat of global warming, and continued deforestation could likely increase the rate at which e-paper technology grows and spreads. According to the Resource Conservation Alliance in Washington, 300 million tons of paper are produced each year, during which time 30 million acres of forest are lost – roughly equal to the size of the state of Pennsylvania.
  10. Also from the Resource Conservation Alliance: in a year’s time, the average office worker in the United States goes through about 10,000 sheets (or 27 pounds) of paper; as a country, the US consumes four million tons of copy paper, two billion books, 350 million magazines and 25 billion newspapers.

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