London, April 2 (ANI): If some companies have their way, reading would never be the same again, with Hitachi, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard racing to develop bigger e-paper devices that are flexible and can display colour and video.
According to a report in Nature News, the technology uses tiny capsules 0.1 millimeters wide that are filled with a non-conducting fluid that contains particles of positively charged white and negatively charged black pigments.
Applying a positive charge causes the black particles to move to the top of the capsule and the white ones to the bottom, so that the surface appears black.
A negative charge switches the surface back to white.
An added plus is that once the particles have migrated, they stay in place, so no electricity is needed to maintain the image - only to change it, such as when turning a page.
Combined with the lack of an energy-devouring backlight, e-paper is much easier on batteries than devices such that use typical liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), such as desktop computers and laptops.
To make sheets of e-paper, a thin-film of the capsules is then applied to a board that contains the circuitry needed to give the pixel pattern.
One of the leaders in making these circuit boards, which are called backplanes, is Plastic Logic, a spin-off from the University of Cambridge, UK.
The firm plans to start shipping an all-plastic flexible reader later this year, ramping up to mass commercial production in early 2010.
Its first flexible device, which uses a backplane of organic thin-film transistors, and E Ink's e-paper, displays in black and white, but is magazine-size and weighs just 450 grams.
The firm expects to begin marketing colour versions in around three years.
The first commercial colour e-reader appeared in March, Fujitsu's FLEPia reader. Rather than using e-ink, the device is based on the company's cholesteric LCD technology, which like e-ink, doesn't need power to maintain text or images.
A promising technology for improving colour displays is electrowetting, which has produced the brightest of all e-paper displays and seems to be the only e-paper technology with refresh rates that are fast enough to display video.
Whatever technologies prevail, magazine-sized monochrome displays will hit the shelves this year, followed by colour versions in 2-5 years, with video coming after that.
By then, e-paper displays will likely be everywhere, creating a multi-billion-dollar market from magazines and newspapers to advertising billboards, and that is likely to be just the start of a revolution in new media. (ANI)