Breakthrough could lead to disposable e-readers

Nov 22, 2010 By John Bach
Researcher Andrew Steckl at the University of Cincinnati illustrates that paper can be used as a flexible host material for an electrowetting device. Credit: University of Cincinnati Nanoelectronics Laboratory

(PhysOrg.com) -- A breakthrough in a University of Cincinnati engineering lab that could clear the way for a low-cost, even disposable, e-reader is gaining considerable attention.

Electrical Engineering Professor Andrew Steckl's research into an affordable, yet high-performance, paper-based is being featured this week as the November cover story of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, one of the scientific journals for the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

In the research, Steckl and UC doctoral student Duk Young Kim demonstrated that paper could be used as a flexible host material for an electrowetting device. Electrowetting (EW) involves applying an electric field to colored droplets within a display in order to reveal content such as type, photographs and video. Steckl's discovery that paper could be used as the host material has far-reaching implications considering other popular e-readers on the market such as the Kindle and iPad rely on complex circuitry printed over a rigid .

"One of the main goals of e-paper is to replicate the look and feel of actual ink on paper," the researchers stated in the ACS article. "We have, therefore, investigated the use of paper as the perfect substrate for EW devices to accomplish e-paper on paper."

Importantly, they found that the performance of the electrowetting device on paper is equivalent to that of glass, which is the gold standard in the field.

Andrew Steckl's research is featured on the cover of the November issue of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The American Chemical Society (ACS) is the world's largest scientific society.

"It is pretty exciting," said Steckl. "With the right paper, the right process and the right device , you can get results that are as good as you would get on glass, and our results are good enough for a video-style e-reader."

Steckl imagines a future device that is rollable, feels like paper yet delivers books, news and even high-resolution color video in bright-light conditions.

"Nothing looks better than paper for reading," said Steckl, an Ohio Eminent Scholar. "We hope to have something that would actually look like paper but behave like a computer monitor in terms of its ability to store information. We would have something that is very cheap, very fast, full-color and at the end of the day or the end of the week, you could pitch it into the trash."

Disposing of a paper-based , Steckl points out, is also far simpler in terms of the environmental impact.

"In general, this is an elegant method for reducing device complexity and cost, resulting in one-time-use devices that can be totally disposed after use," the researchers pointed out.

Steckl's goal is attract commercial interest in the technology for next-stage development, which he expects will take three to five years to get to market.

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User comments : 18

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Mayday
3 / 5 (6) Nov 22, 2010
This makes no sense. What advantage does a single-use e-reader have over, uh, paper? And if it's not single-use, why is it considered disposable? I was imagining a single, paper-paged, hard-cover novel that could display countless novels on its pages. Isn't that a better use of this technology?
What am I missing?
jjoensuu
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2010
I could imagine a lot of uses for an e-display that is so cheap that it can be disposed of.

One example is to get rid of printers. I recently received a document that I needed to print and sign from my bank. Being that I am temporarily in a hotel and do not have a printer, I had to take it to the hotels business center for printing.

With a disposable e-display I could have loaded it to the e-display paper document from the internet, signed it on that paper, and mailed it directly.

I think this is related to the striving for the "paperless office". I do not think we will ever get a paperless office but we could perhaps get a "mostly printerless office", but disposable e-display is a prerequisite for it.

This would be useful at least because printer ink is ridiculously overpriced.
Ravenrant
3 / 5 (4) Nov 22, 2010
Just what we need, something else that is disposable. The free market will love it. What we need are things that last forever, not a day.
Neurons_At_Work
5 / 5 (3) Nov 22, 2010
The first use for this will most likely be an update of Esquire's 2008 e-paper cover and/or ads. Everybody's always looking for some way to sell more widgets, and if it flashes, moves, changes color or wiggles around a page the ad execs will be all over it. Animated DVD cover art, or p*rn, or some such foolishness will be close behind...
mattytheory
3.5 / 5 (4) Nov 22, 2010
"Animated DVD cover art, or p*rn, or some such foolishness will be close behind..."

Indeed, it is these sort of foolish, or dare I say selfish, endeavors that drive innovation... or at the very least, drives the funding behind the innovation.
bhiestand
4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 22, 2010
Just what we need, something else that is disposable. The free market will love it. What we need are things that last forever, not a day.

Don't worry, most of this stuff will last forever in landfills.
Just_some_guy
3 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2010
I could imagine a lot of uses for an e-display that is so cheap that it can be disposed of.

One example is to get rid of printers. I recently received a document that I needed to print and sign from my bank. Being that I am temporarily in a hotel and do not have a printer, I had to take it to the hotels business center for printing.

With a disposable e-display I could have loaded it to the e-display paper document from the internet, signed it on that paper, and mailed it directly.


What?? So let me get this right. You would sign a piece of e-paper with a normal pen and the send it in the mail. And the receiver can then change the content of the e-paper to reflect any kind of contract that they wish...
Good thinking!!!

Luckily, for you, your signature would probably be completely worhtless in a court of law if signed that way.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2010

Luckily, for you, your signature would probably be completely worhtless in a court of law if signed that way.


Meanwhile, faxing your signature is considered valid, even though you can intercept the fax on a computer and then change whatever you want, and print it out on the thermal printer.
LivaN
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2010
This makes no sense. What advantage does a single-use e-reader have over, uh, paper? And if it's not single-use, why is it considered disposable?

Yeah, like disposable cameras that take only one photo. I think the are implying that the cost of the product will be so low that you can simply bye a new damage free e-reader. Remember that it is made of paper, so by a weeks time there most likely will be defects.

It is a piece of PAPER that can display video...why is everyone bitching? That is awesome.

What we need are things that last forever, not a day.

Why? I would prefer a unbelievably cheap and renewable e-reader, than an incredible complex and expensive one that lasts forever...is it even possible to design something to last forever??
powerup1
3 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2010
most of these comments prove that the majority of people don't have the imagination or reasoning ability to create anything of value.
Dentist
not rated yet Nov 23, 2010
Animated greetings cards, business cards, interactive toys, product packaging/labelling - the list of uses is endless!
KaiKonn
5 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2010
Good morning all! I like the thoughts of "single page books". A book that you could purchase from your local book store that instead of having 300 individual pages, would have one "page" with a small button on it where you could move forward and backward through the pages. Imagine the savings in paper this could provide! Imagine entire sections of library books reduced to a small cabinet of single-page books. Imagine school children carrying every single book they need for school in just one small binder. Indeed, imagine a three subject notebook reduced to a single page that could be written on, and then just a button press would reveal a new page. At the end of the class provided that there's not too much damage, you could either erase all your notes, and start fresh, or simply put the notebook into a small binder, and save it for posterity.

Yes, this could be a wonderful innovation that could indeed change the complexion of how we get, store, and enjoy our reading materials
wwqq
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2010
This makes no sense. What advantage does a single-use e-reader have over, uh, paper?


It can be updated.

And if it's not single-use, why is it considered disposable?


Because when it has fullfilled its function you throw it away.

What am I missing?


Milk cartoons that can measure their pH and temperature and estimate when they'll go bad; and other such frivolous things.
Ricochet
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2010
Oh, look! Harry Potter technology for the real world!
Personally, I'd rather not use single-use e-devices like that. For instance, that newspaper with the graphics and such, I'd rather have an e-newspaper device that will just update its content in the morning when I plug it in to the computer, or maybe even do it wirelessly.
Patrick_Stewart
5 / 5 (1) Nov 27, 2010
I see the reasoning behind not wanting a disposable device for environmental reasons, but disagree. I would rather have something that could be thrown in a river and bio-degrade in 50 years rather than fragment and end up in the Pacific garbage patch for the next 50,000. So, the question would be exactly how bio-degradable or toxic would this new technology be?
MorituriMax
not rated yet Nov 28, 2010
Yet another article to bring the environmentalists out in droves. Hopefully none of you will ever upgrade your computers because then the old ones go to the landfill.
socean
5 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2010
Get used to it. Everything man-made will eventually include display capabilities, paper is just the beginning...your walls, your car, your furniture,floors,fixtures, plates, tools...in short, everything, will be able to change it's surface appearance dynamically, wirelessly, at will.

I'm off to buy a new bedspread... you know one of those video ones... I'm gonna program it to display shooting flames and lightning bolts... hope my wife doesn't figure it out, or I'll be sleeping under Brad Pitt.

Ricochet
not rated yet Dec 09, 2010
To be fair, many components in computers can be recycled, from the case down to the circuit boards. Eventually NASA will upgrade from 8088 motherboards and start paying high dollar for what will then be antiquated Pentium boards.
The question, then, of bio-degradability, must also include recycleability. Between the two, properly handled waste that gets put in a landfill and hangs around for a few centuries can be quite minimal, and generally found acceptable by environmentalists.