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Breakthrough may make Kindle go the way of the 8-track
by Matt Marusiak on November 28, 2010
It’s hard to believe now, but listening to music on 8-tracks once was the state of the art. The speed of technology often outstrips the capabilities of the latest gadgets and makes them obsolete. A recent innovation may make the Kindle the next victim. While Kindle vies against the Nook for supremacy, a new electrowetting technique may cast the current e-readers into the trash bin of technological has-beens.
The displays on most e-paper devices are based on electrophoretic technology. Millions of tiny particles are treated to have an electric charge and suspended in a solution between two parallel plates. The unit manipulates electric charge at precise points, making the particles migrate between the plates and resulting in words appearing on the screen. The most widely used e-paper devices, including the Kindle and the Nook, employ electrophoretic technology developed by E Ink.
Electrowetting uses voltage across liquid droplets on a solid host material to change the shape of the droplets and reveal text. The advantages of electrowetting over electrophoresis include needing less circuitry and having a higher switching speed. The challenge, however, is finding a suitable host material that demonstrates electrowetting behavior. Professor Andrew Steckl of the University of Cincinnati may have found just such a material.
The ideal for e-paper is to make it look and feel like real paper. So Dr. Steckl and his team investigated what would seem, in retrospect, an obvious candidate: actual paper. And they found that paper could perform as good as the current industry standard, the glass display. In the words of the good doctor:
"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."
Dr. Steckl hopes to commercialize the technology in five years. He even imagines using this technology to develop disposable e-readers. Such a use, however, would negate the environmental advantages of e-paper, particularly when one considers how many Kindles and Nooks would also be trashed. Perhaps Dr. Steckl’s next research project should examine recycling obsolete e-books.