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A review of the development of E-paper  

2007-06-21 00:42:58|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Paper chase

Jun 15th 2007
From Economist.com

Electronic paper is catching up with the real thing

AN INVENTOR meets a venture capitalist in a bar. He pulls out ofhis pocket something that looks like a grubby handkerchief,straightens it out on the bar top, and begins his pitch for $10m ofventure money.

It’s a video display that can be furled, folded or rolled upinto a ball, the inventor enthuses. He shows how it can be viewedfrom any angle, is easy to read in bright sunlight, has a contrastratio better than a laptop’s liquid-crystal display (LCD), islight and portable, and can run for months without being recharged.It will change the way we view the world, swears the wide-eyedinventor. “Naw, it’s all been done better and cheaper before,”says the unimpressed VC, as he crumples the newspaper he wasreading and tosses it into the bin.

A review of the development of E-paper - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒 A review of the development of E-paper - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒

Ink on paper has evolved over the millennia to become theeasiest medium to read and the most efficient means for conveyinginformation. And despite all the talk about paperless offices,computers have contributed mightily to today’s deluge of printedmaterial instead of helping diminish it. But that hasn’t stoppedresearchers around the world from trying to replicate print onpaper electronically.

The one thing going for e-paper, which the dead-tree versioncan’t hope to match, is its programmability. Imagine a newspaperthat could be updated as events developed during the day. Think ofa book that could change its contents after you’d finished readingit. How about a laptop-sized screen that unfurled from your mobilephone so you could watch TV while strap-hanging to work? What ifyour tee-shirt could flash intimate messages to attractivepassers-by?

Sony is the latest in a long line of gadget-makers to flaunt apaper-like electronic display. The flexible 2.5-inch display itdemonstrated a couple of weeks ago was notable for two reasons: itoffered full-motion video and was in living colour.

E InkCorporationA review of the development of E-paper - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒

In some ways, Sony is playing catch-up here. LG Philips, a jointventure between LG of South Korea and Philips of the Netherlands,has been showing off a 14-inch colour screen that’s flexibleenough to wrap around a lamp post. Prime View International ofTaiwan has something similar. So does Samsung of South Korea andboth Seiko Epson and Fujitsu of Japan, as well as a handful ofstart-ups in Britain and America. But until recently, few of themwere able to display colour video properly.

While making flexible displays in monochrome has been difficult,adding colours and making them switch fast enough for full-motionvideo has been a tougher nut to crack. The trick to making suchfurlable displays has been to fabricate the electrode arrays forswitching the display’s millions of picture elements (“pixels”)from either conducting plastics or extremely thin metal foil.Fortuitously, the recent improvement in plastic electronics forink-jet printers has invigorated the whole of the e-paperbusiness.

Like real paper, e-paper has to be both highly reflective andpassive—ie, it should need no juice for backlighting or formaintaining the image. The best way to do that is to use a mediumthat’s bi-stable. Like a tossed coin, a bi-stable material canflip between two possible states—and then remain stable, andrequire no energy, in one or the other state until flippedagain.

The first attempts to devise a bi-stable ink were made 30 yearsago at Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Centre in California.Called Gyricon, the technology was based on a transparent siliconesandwich with millions of tiny polyethylene spheres floating in oilbetween the upper and lower surfaces. Each of the tiny beads, lessthan a hair’s width in diameter, was black on one side and whiteon the other, with each hemisphere carrying an opposing electriccharge. When an external charge was applied to an electrode arrayon the upper surface of the sandwich, the beads floating beneaththem rotated promptly to reveal either their white or blacksides—spelling out words and images, depending on the pattern ofsurface electrodes switched on or off.

Nowadays, a Xerox subsidiary called Gyricon LLC sells itsSmartPaper—the polarised-bead form of e-paper—as reprogrammabledisplays for draping inside retail stores, hotels, conferencecentres and colleges. The flexible signs are connected wirelesslyto computerised databases so they can be changed with the click ofa mouse.

The bi-stable technology that has progressed the furthest,however, is a refinement perfected at the Massachusetts Instituteof Technology (MIT) in the early 1990s. This uses tinymicrocapsules filled with electrically-charged particles of whitetitanium dioxide suspended in an oily solution of black dye. Thecapsules themselves are trapped in a liquid polymer that’ssandwiched between two arrays of electrodes.

When a negative charge is applied to individual electrodes, thetitanium-dioxide particles move to the top of the microspheres andmake that part of the display appear white. As with the Gyricon,the pattern of electrodes switched on or off determines the imageon the display.

E-Ink, the company spun off from MIT to commercialise the idea,supplies such displays to electronics firms around the world,including LG Philips, Samsung, Motorola and Prime View as well asSony. The first e-book reader launched by Sony in 2004 used anE-Ink display with electronics supplied by Philips.

Sony’s latest announcement promises to bring e-paper evencloser to everyday use. This time the device appears to be ahome-grown development. Unlike the electrophoretic displays used inE-Ink’s products, which rely on charged particles being physicallymoved by an electric field, Sony’s new imaging device uses anorganic electroluminescence display (OLED). Such displays emitlight in response to an electric current or field being passingthrough them.

OLEDs generally use a glass substrate, or backing material. ButSony has found a way of forming the organic transistors forswitching the pixels on and off on a flexible plastic substrate.The 2.5-inch prototype is little thicker than a sheet of actualpaper and weighs about the same without its associatedelectronics.

Don’t expect such a clever innovation to be wasted on somethingas prosaic as a portable reader for e-books. Apple’s multimediaiPhone may be the gadget du jour, but Sony may trump it with anall-singing-and-dancing gizmo, built around a foldable display fordownloading television, which can run for days without recharging.Now that’s something not to be sneezed at.

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