Electronic Erasable Paper - Xerox Seeks E-Palimpsest

Electronic reusable paper could reduce waste; as many as 40% of paper copies in offices are used for only a single day. Xerox is still looking for the perfect palimpsest, which is the word scholars use to describe a piece of writing material that has been erased and used again. The word "palimpsest" comes from two Greek root words meaning "scraped again."

(Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus palimpsest [5th Cent. Greek] close-up)

The Romans (experienced managers that they were) actually came up with tablets that could be reused. They were made of wood, and covered with wax. Writing was done with a pointed instrument; a straight-edged instrument was used in a razor-like fashion to re-smooth the surface for another use. We get the expression "clean slate" from the Latin tabula rasa, although as you can see above, traces remain of earlier writing.

(Wood Waxed Tablet)

Xerox PARC has already come up with one product that fits the bill (and is somewhat more technologically advanced): Gyricon, which uses a thin layer of transparent plastic composed of small beads.

(Modern E-Palimpsest)

The beads have a light side and a dark side; when a voltage is applied to the bichromal beads at particular places on the sheet, the beads rotate to create an image.

(Gyricon bichromal bead close-up)

The Sony Reader was introduced earlier this year; it uses this technology in a continuously-refreshable form as an electronic book.

Science fiction writers are trying to encourage the process: in his 2003 novel Darwin's Children, Greg Bear gives a pretty good idea of how erasable paper might be used to create a more secure communication:

He removed the e-sheet from the attaché case and folded the red corner to activate. A keypad appeared in the lower half. He entered the code of the day and read his briefing from the emergency action special reconnaissance office.
(Read more about e-sheets)

Read Xerox Seeks Erasable Form of Paper for Copiers; via /.; check out the Sony reader with e-paper screen. Tired of waiting for the perfect E-Palimpsest? Try making your own waxed tablet with instructions by Randy Asplund, sf and fantasy illustrator.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/27/2006)

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