E-paper to reinvent print media

If you thought paper will soon be a thing of the past, think again. Now there will be a paper of the future, and you won't have to worry about recycling it -- it does that on its own.

Lucent Technologies and E Ink are collaborating on a futuristic product that the companies describe as electronic paper. It could become a new format for printing and distributing newspapers and books.

The electronic paper will actually be flexible plastic sheets made through a process similar to ink-on-paper printing, Lucent representatives said in a statement on Tuesday. The plastic sheets will be covered with plastic transistors developed at Lucent's Bell Labs. They have the same properties as conventional silicon chips, but are flexible and can be printed onto plastic.

E Ink's electronic ink, the other key component of electronic paper, is made of millions of tiny microcapsules filled with dark dye and light pigment that change colour to form images when charged by the electric field created by the plastic transistors.

The electronic paper could be instantaneously updated with the latest edition of a newspaper or other traditionally printed media through a computer link, Lucent says. The same technology could also be used to create wafer-thin screen displays for digital products, such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants.

Two years ago, Bell Labs researchers demonstrated a silk screen technique that printed a plastic transistor on transparent film. The goal of the new collaboration announced Tuesday is to produce a paper-like film that is as flexible and easy to read as ink on paper, Bell Labs researcher Pierre Wiltzius says.

E Ink is currently testing an electronic ink technology in its large-area Immedia signs, which are being used in several retail settings. The Immedia displays, which are cheaper than LED displays or LCDs, will be available next year. The displays are based on silicon chips, but E Ink says electronic ink is compatible with Lucent's plastic transistors.