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E-ink evolves: full color, video-capable, easy on the eye and cheap enough to be disposable

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November 24, 2010

The electrowetting e-ink process on paper.

The electrowetting e-ink process on paper.

Image Gallery (3 images)

E-ink's benefits over other forms of display are obvious: you don't have to backlight it if you don't want to, so it's very easy on the eye and also on a device's battery. You can effectively use it to produce an electronic screen that's as pleasant to look at as a printed piece of paper. And the technology seems set to take another leap forward with the announcement that University of Cincinnati researchers have developed an e-ink technology that's quick enough to competently display full color video – but so cheap that it can be completely disposable. How? Well, instead of using glass or flexible plastic as the basic substrate layer, they're using paper – and getting excellent results. So you could end up with single-page disposable electronic newspapers and magazines that use a tiny fraction of the paper their printed counterparts require. Clever stuff!

The paper-based e-ink technology uses the electrowetting method, in which an electric field is applied to colored droplets in a display unit to effectively turn on and off pixels in an array. Unlike an electrophoretic display like the one used in Amazon's Kindle e-reader, an electrowetting screen is able to deliver full color, and it can refresh quickly enough to display video.

The electrowetting e-ink process on paper.

It uses very little power, it's low-voltage, but delivers high contrast and can be used to deliver exceptional brightness, up to four times brighter than a reflective LCD screen - not to mention that electrowetting screens can be made flat and very thin.

Previously, the technique has required complex circuitry printed onto rigid glass or flexible plastic, but Electrical Engineering professor Andrew Steckl and doctoral student Duk Young Kim from the University of Cincinnati have discovered that you can get glass-like performance using a simple piece of paper as the substrate.

Professor Andrew Steckl, from the University of Cincinnati

The end result will be a flexible, very cheap paper screen that can be sold as a disposable item like a newspaper or magazine. You could even print books on it, given a longer-lasting power source. It would be more convenient than a newspaper to read in just about any situation (but particularly on the train), and since it's cheap and disposable there'd be none of that paranoid feeling you get using an expensive iPad or Kindle in public.

“Nothing looks better than paper for reading,” said Steckl, an Ohio Eminent Scholar. “We hope to have something that would actually look like paper but behave like a computer monitor in terms of its ability to store information. We would have something that is very cheap, very fast, full-color and at the end of the day or the end of the week, you could pitch it into the trash.”

The electrowetting e-ink process on paper.

Whether or not the commercial applications of this technology end up being as cheap and effective as its inventors hope, paper-based electrowetting looks like a worthwhile and exciting addition to the portable display market. We look forward to seeing it in action.

Full press release at the University of Cincinnati website.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
11 Comments

Seriously, this is still a long way from video speed color displays. Getting acceptable color depth resolution is just one challenge. But it is very interesting.

Timothy Loose
24th November, 2010 @ 06:08 am PST

Kinda kills the "get rid of paper/save the forests/eliminate waste" agenda doesn't it? It's great that it can be cheap and flexible... but disposable? I think reusable is a better direction.

Daniel Vulikh
24th November, 2010 @ 09:59 am PST

still, it's a start........ and remember what "digital camera" meant only15 years ago? won't be long before the newspaper looks as if it came from harry potter movies.

David Larson
24th November, 2010 @ 10:12 am PST

Coming soon to your (snail) mailbox: video junk-mail flyers. :)

shawnhcorey
24th November, 2010 @ 11:03 am PST

I am really surprised and dissapointed that with a greater focus on sustainability we still have people focusing on disposable items.

An invention like this should be focusing on cheap re-usable devices not something that would be disposable.

At the very least they should be highlighting how recyclable it would be.

Foxy1968
24th November, 2010 @ 04:56 pm PST

I'm waiting for home use printers that can print e-ink or OLED displays.

Facebook User
24th November, 2010 @ 05:54 pm PST

@Facebook User: you don't use a printer to print to an e-ink or OLED display. It's an electronic device displaying an image in its memory; you upload the data to the device.

Facebook User
26th November, 2010 @ 09:38 am PST

obviously this is a good idea. much, much less ink and paper are required.

Kyle R Johnson
29th November, 2010 @ 08:10 am PST

I'm sorry, but only an idiot would complain that it's "disposable" or a waste of paper. Use your heads!!! You're talking about taking newspapers and magazines from dozens, sometimes even over a hundred pages down to one... ONE! Do the math, This could be the single greatest development for the conservation of trees in human history. Do the math before you start bitching, folks.

Dave Andrews
29th November, 2010 @ 05:53 pm PST

I am all for saving the environment and our trees, but has anyone actually compared the carbon emissions involved in producing electronic components to that of producing paper? I read an article stating that globally the paper industry plants up to 3x more trees than what is felled! It also states that more pollution and environmental distruction is caused by reading an article through an online publication than through printed media due to the manufacturing processes followed. I would love to see a more thoroughly conducted independant and unbias comparison study.

liam
2nd December, 2010 @ 06:54 am PST

hope to own one

Facebook User
21st February, 2011 @ 09:39 pm PST
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