Sunday, September 30, 2001

Epaper Proposal

Paper Used For Short Term Applications Should Be Reusable.

Every day, millions of people print a hard copy of an electronic communication only to throw it out that same day. The paper and ink are wasted. A reusable medium to replace this paper would be extremely advantageous.

The loss to the individual is both in materials and in cost of waste disposal. Equally important is the global impact of pulp and paper consumption. In this age of steep, population growth, the future availability of any resource must be viewed with pessimism. It is reasonable to assume that 10% of the world population wastes an average of one sheet of paper per day. That represents - stacked flat - at least 840m3 per year.

A reusable medium to replace paper must meet four main criteria:
1. Supply a high contrast, high resolution display of text and figures with a wide viewing angle.
2. Provide the option of long term storage.
3. Lend itself easily to editing.
4. Be non-encumbersom, durable, easy to store and inexpensive.

Paper serves the above criteria very well, and when used for long term storage, remains a superior solution. The objective of this proposal is not to replace paper but to offer an alternate solution which meets the above criteria and is permanently reusable.

Electro-phoretic Ink (eink) is composed of transparent micro-capsules measuring approximately 40um in diameter. Each capsule contains tiny, white, permanently charged particles suspended in a black dye. A sheet of paper impregnated with a uniform layer of eink is, therefore, entirely electrically addressable because the position of the white partials can be set by applying an electric field. Once set, no power is needed to maintain the state of the page, which does not begin to degrade for several months. The resolution of such a page is entirely dependant on the density of the ink and the precision of the electric field.

1. I propose that present ink-jet printers could be modified to produce a very precise electric field rather then a very precise jet of ink. Such a device, would appear to print on the impregnated paper, just as a regular printer on regular paper. Such paper can supply high contrast, high resolution and a wide viewing angle, just like regular paper.

2. If long term storage became necessary, the page could easily be scanned and stored on a computer. This could be an alternate function of the printer, paralleling well established technology.

3. Editability could be achieved by creating a tablet and stencil between which precise electric fields could be generated. A stencil with reverse polarity would serve as an eraser

4. The cost of the proposed printer would not be inhibitive because it is only a slight modification of existing technology. The production of densely impregnated pages (usually on a plastic substrate for increased durability) is well established, and mass production will greatly reduce their cost. Such paper is non-encumbersom, durable and easy to store, just like regular paper. Besides the minor differences outlined above, the reusable paper could look and function virtually like regular paper.

The reusable paper, here proposed, is a promising idea, not only because it prevents massive, unnecessary waste but also because it is exciting and novel. The commercial attraction of the latter may actually be greater than that of the former.

I am a third year undergraduate student in computer engineering at Queen's University. I have had previous experience in prototyping simple hardware, both for personal use and for the Queen's Solar Car. This project requires only the adaptation and extension of existing technology. I believe that it is within my skill to prototype the proposed printer and stencil/tablet device. Furthermore, the method of production of the paper is largely a research matter and well within my capability. I am very excited about these prospects and hope you share my interest.

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