Epson developing e-paper, giant flexible screens

Seiko Epson is developing flexible display technologies that it expects will lead to the commercialisation of electronic paper before the end of the decade, and later TVs that can be peeled off walls.

The company is developing "e-paper" that can be rolled up and folded as a replacement for paper-based newspapers or magazines, fellow and director of Epson's technology platform research centre, Tatsuya Shimoda, said.

The electronic paper was expected to be on the market in five years, he said.

The e-paper sheets will be displays mounted on flexible plastic backings and will be 0.2mm thick. The company wants to develop the technology to the point where an A4-sized sheet (297mm x 210mm), for example, would last a month to several months before wear and tear made it inoperable.

Such a sheet would cost well under $US100, Shimoda said.

Slotted into the back of a PC, users could download presentations into the e-paper sheets, which could then be handed out in meetings. The sheets could be combined into binders and read like books if readers wanted, he said. Users would be able to download a page's worth of information in about a second, he said.

Downloads could be made using wired and wireless technologies, for example via mobile phones.

"This e-paper will be very light and very readable and very thin, and our image is to have whole newspapers downloaded electronically," Shimoda said.

The companyclaims that e-paper, in Japan at least, could work out less than the equivalent cost of buying daily newspapers and several glossy magazines each month. In Japan, daily newspapers typically cost between one dollar and $US1.20 each, and, for example, fashion monthlies can cost $US10 each.

The e-paper will be foldable. But the more it is folded, the faster it will degrade, Shimoda said.

E-paper development takes advantage of several technologies based the company's ability to print organic thin-film transistors onto flexible substrates. The company has already developed some displays that are several inches in diameter and successfully put these on flexible plastic sheets. Other applications, for example, are electronic tags that can be pasted on and peeled off bottles.

The company also claims it can make giant TV panels that are light and flexible enough to be peeled off and on walls. These panels could combine active matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology with thin film transistor technology and would also be seated on plastic, Shimoda said.

Such screens could cover whole walls and be used as scenery, he said.

The company is still vague on when peelable TV panels might become a reality but Shimoda has a date in mind.

"I am 50, so I would like to develop the technology before I retire," he said.

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