I have known of E-Ink (the company) and its technology since it sinception at MIT. That is one of the benefits of being close to a school where labs are spinning out innovations in quick succession (and taking a course with E-Ink’s founder, Prof. Joe Jacobsen).
E-Ink has had a taken a long path to commercialization even though in late 90’s some believed paper books were a thing of the past. Even some people I knew jumped into the e-books phenomenon in the dot-boom phase.
E-Ink came up with a revolutionary technology that made it possible to use (a) very little energy and (b) the screen could be made very visible even in sunlight. They started their journey by trying to make billboards that were ‘alive’, but that didn’t really go too far. Then in addition to other display products, they started down the path of making better screen for digital book readers, and recently made big splashes when Sony (Reader) and Amazon (Kindle) announced their own versions of the e-readers that both used E-Ink technology. I won’t do justice to the technology but the basic idea is to have colored balls (microcapsules) as pixels that would expose their ‘bright’ or ‘dark’ sides when a voltage was applied to them. I am still a bit fazed by the price or I would have got one myself. Why would I ever want to carry 2-3 books with me on long trips abroad. I could just download a dozen onto my e-reader.
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But anyways – now they have come up with an even cooler technology. It is E-Ink, in color! And not only that, they also have developed technologies for flexible displays….The technology is not yet fully commercial and may be a few years away from a product you and I can afford, but I look forward to the day… this could be a game-changer. Imagine all the magazines we collect during the month becoming available for download in full color! Hey, I don’t know about you but I am sick of throwing away/recycling piles of ‘Technology Review‘, ‘Chemical & Engineering News‘, ‘Wired‘, ‘Fast Company‘, ‘Business Week‘, ‘The Economist‘, ‘Foreign Affairs’ and ‘American Scientist’ each month. And the stack doesn’t look attractive after a while and I have to keep putting ‘Town and Country‘ magazine on top to hide my geekiness from being on public display.
But this won’t be the only use. Imagine quick deployment of text books in developing countries, newspaper access, consider the trees saved from being turned into paper. Would libraries turn into plug and retrieve data centers? One can just imagine the utilities. Read on…
Gadgets like the Sony Reader and the newer Amazon Kindle let people read downloaded e-books on crisp displays that are clear even in bright sunlight. But while the devices reproduce the experience of reading ink on paper, they’re rigid, monochrome, and relatively slow to switch pages. Laboratory advances from E Ink of Cambridge, MA, whose technology is used in both e-readers, are pushing electronic-paper technology into color and video.
E Ink’s existing displays feature microcapsules filled with charged black and white chips in a clear liquid. Switching the polarity of an electrode pushes the black or white chips up or down, forming words and images. Thanks to new “inks” it has developed that reflect 47 percent of ambient light (up from 35 to 40 percent), the company was recently able to add red, green, and blue filters to the capsules (below image), producing a prototype color display (top left). Meanwhile, tweaks to the particles, solution, and electronics have boosted the refresh rate from one frame per second in current displays to 30 frames per second in a “video ink” prototype. E Ink is working with partners to develop flexible transistors for use in color displays; eventually, such displays could even roll up. Commercialization is still a few years off, but “you can imagine a USA Today weather chart where clouds are actually moving,” says Russ Wilcox, CEO of E Ink.
Courtesy of E-Ink