Imagine going to your local train station to commute to the office in the morning. Instead of large paper posters, the train time tables are shown on large electronic paper displays that wrap around the columns of the platform. Before getting on the train, you download the day's news from a vending machine and read it on your ultra-thin, film substrate-based e-newspaper. It's much like a traditional newspaper except that instead of throwing it away after reading it you simply update the content the next day. In the carriages, advertisements hanging from the ceiling are also based on e-paper, as is your PDA. Fujitsu is at the forefront of this exciting new display medium that will change the way people read and access information.
"We're developing e-paper similar to an electronic newspaper," says Tomohisa Shingai of Fujitsu's Storage & Intelligent Systems Laboratories. (Interview date: June 7th, 2005). "The format is like a paper sheet but can display memory contents and allow the user to be online anywhere and anytime."
E-paper holds the promise of becoming a truly versatile medium that is lightweight, portable and low-power. It is easier on the eyes than regular LCD or CRT screens because it is viewed with reflected light and not backlighting or light emissions. Since it is bi-stable, power is used only to change the display content. The image is preserved when the power is off, so the device is very energy-efficient.
But despite recent advances in e-paper technology, business applications remain limited. Fujitsu aims to change that with the introduction of film panel-based, rewritable e-paper incorporating liquid crystals. Fujitsu's e-paper boasts flexibility, low weight and energy consumption and color displays.
"E-paper is now in living color," says Shingai. "Using no power, our e-paper can display sharp color, and even if you bend it, the image doesn't disappear and doesn't blot. As such, it's unique in the world."
Fujitsu's rewritable color e-paper is based on highly reflective cholesteric selective reflection technology. Cholesteric refers to the mesomorphic phase of a liquid crystal in which the molecules are aligned in a specific manner, in this case, a spiral configuration. Up to 50% of incident light in specific wavelengths and colors is reflected.
Key advantages of our e-paper include the semipermanent memory display system, which maintains the image even without power, and color that is three times as bright as other products by e-paper developers. It is not susceptible to flicker, the visible fading of an image displayed on a screen. It uses about one-hundredth the power of LCDs and plasma display panels when the image is changed, while being far lighter and thinner, as slim as 0.8 mm. Its flexibility also allows for greater freedom in applications, and excellent temperature variation tolerance enables use in different environments.
The potential commercial applications of Fujitsu e-paper are manifold. Aside from large-scale advertising such as wraparound posters, e-paper pricing sign systems for retail goods would be wirelessly linked to in-store central databases that could change prices instantly, saving vendors time as well as printing and labor costs. Integrated circuit cards could also benefit from e-paper technology, for instance displaying the amount of cash left in an e-money card or the value remaining on a commuter pass. E-paper date displays could also be incorporated into conventional wristwatches.
Even though advances in IT have provided us with more and more tools to manage information, we are using more and more paper to print out all that data and make sense of it. Regardless of whether the elusive “paperless office” of the future ever comes into being, the way we use paper will likely change. Fujitsu's e-paper is setting a new standard in the evolution and digitization of this essential medium.