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Electronic paper

The late Isaac Asimov once gave a lecture describing the ultimate data storage and display medium, which would require no power to operate or maintain its image, could display text or pictures (in colour if necessary), permit random access to its data, cause no problems with future obsolescence of its recording system, and would easily fit into a jacket pocket. Only at the end did he reveal that he was describing — the book. At least two groups of American researchers are currently working towards combining all the best features of that most versatile and durable device with those of the standard computer display. After several years’ work, they have produced prototypes of a medium almost as thin and flexible as paper, but which can be repeatedly erased and rewritten with data from computer storage and which requires no power to maintain its image indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, this new stuff has been dubbed electronic paper, a term which goes back at least to the mid nineties, though the term digital paper has also been used. As you might imagine, the writing mechanism is called electronic ink. At the moment, the display is limited to monochrome, but researchers are predicting that by 2006 they will have mastered the technique of displaying not only colour images but video as well.

As increasing amounts of information are held and presented in the electronic medium, it is an appropriate time to reflect on whether “electronic paper” is a realistic proposition now or in the future.

Roger Gimson, Electronic paper — can it be real?
Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, Bristol, 1995

Sheridon and his team have already made square tiles of electronic paper 30 centimetres across containing an embedded processor that allows them to display a different image every second.

New Scientist, May 1999

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 12 Jun. 1999

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Last modified: 12 June 1999.