Disposable E-Readers?

In his 1995 novel The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson refers to disposable e-readers:

Bud took a seat and skimmed a mediatron from the coffee table; it looked exactly like a dirty, wrinkled, blank sheet of paper. "'Annals of Self-Protection,'" he said, loud enough for everyone else in the place to hear him. The logo of his favorite meedfeed coalesced on the page. Mediaglyphics, mostly the cool animated ones, arranged themselves in a grid.

(I also note in passing that he is describing the start-up screen of an Apple iPhone - the grid of apps and content icons.)

Current e-readers, like the the Kindle and the iRex are relatively thick panels. Could you have a paper-thin e-reader?

University of Cincinnati engineering researcher Andrew Steckl believes that a low-cost - and even disposable - e-reader may be right around the corner.


( University of Cincinnati engineering researcher Andrew Steckl )

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 glass substrate.

“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.

“It is pretty exciting," said Steckl. “With the right paper, the right process and the right device fabrication technique, 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.”

“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.”

Via University of Cinncinnati; see also the many ideas that Neal Stephenson includes for free in The Diamond Age.

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