Friday, July 20, 2007

Remembering the first anouncements of Eink

I found this story at The NY Times, dated November 30, 2000. Interesting thing to look back and see how much the technology has grown since then:

Flexible Displays for Electronic Ink

Published: November 30, 2000

SCIENTISTS in Cambridge, Mass., have demonstrated what they say is the world's first flexible display using electronic ink, bringing engineers one step closer to creating a changeable display screen that is nearly as portable, lightweight and easy to read as paper.

''It is about the stiffness of a mouse pad,'' said Paul Drzaic, director of display technology for E Ink, a start-up company working on flexible display technology.

The prototype, which was unveiled last week and can be viewed at, looks about as thick as a mouse pad, too, mostly because of flexible padding added to prevent the prototype from being ripped accidentally,. But E Ink executives have said that the product could eventually be as thin as four sheets of paper.

The prototype was created as part of a joint project between E Ink, which was founded by physicists from the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lucent Technologies, which has created flexible plastic circuits. E Ink's core technology consists of an ink that responds to electric charges, enabling words or images to be displayed on a relatively thin screen without the need for a conventional cathode-ray tube monitor or liquid crystal display screen.

Until recently, the ink was applied to rigid boards because the technology relied on brittle silicon chips to regulate the electric charges. In fact, E Ink's first product, called Immedia, looks a lot like a billboard, several examples of which are hanging in retail shops to deliver changing messages to passers-by.

Now, with the help of Lucent's circuitry, the company is working to produce bendable displays that can respond to electronic signals and still be folded or rolled. Some technologists have envisioned that this technology could lead to something like an always up-to-date newspaper that displays information carried over the wireless Internet.

In addition to their flexibility, the plastic circuits designed by Lucent are relatively inexpensive, Dr. Drzaic said. While silicon chips require expensive fabrication factories, the plastic circuits are printed, or stamped, onto a plastic substrate, a technique that Lucent and E Ink say can be done en masse at a relatively low cost. The two companies are looking for a manufacturer to develop the technology.

The one drawback to the plastic chips, Dr. Drzaic said, is that they cannot handle as much current as silicon, which means that it is unlikely they could be used in anything as power-hungry as a personal computer any time soon.

''But,'' Dr. Drzaic said, ''the E Ink material does not need that much current.'' It merely responds to simple electric charges, instead of complex commands. ''In that sense,'' he said, ''plastic circuits and electronic ink are a perfect match.''

But silicon-based technology still plays a role. Electronic ink will always need traditional chips to handle the more complex tasks of taking orders from computers, said E Ink's chief executive, Jim Iuliano. He said he envisions the technology taking a hybrid form, like a book with a rigid spine attached to pages that are thin and flexible enough to roll up.

Mr. Iuliano said he has also heard from at least one watch manufacturer who is interested in using the flexible displays on the wristbands of high-tech watches.

''It's a natural for these kinds of applications,'' he said.



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