E-paper heralds computing revolution

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E-paper heralds computing revolution

Roll up, roll up, roll up for a new computing era.

Moves by UK firm Plastic Logic to produce flexible electronic paper display modules will pave the way for a new generation of computing devices including low-power signage and wearable electronics, Gartner predicted today.

The upbeat assessment came after the news that Cambridge-based Plastic Logic had raised US$100m in venture capital to set up the first factory to manufacture plastic electronics.

The site, based in Dresden in Germany, is expected to begin production of flexible e-paper in 2008.

Gartner noted that the potential benefits of polymer electronics similar to those touted by Plastic Logic have been recognised for some time.

However, the technology has been plagued by problems including bad transistor gain, susceptibility to contamination (particularly moisture) and low circuit densities.

According to a Gartner advisory written by analysts Jim Tully and Martin Reynolds, Plastic Logic claims to have solved most of these issues, and can manufacture viable components using inexpensive material.

As a result the report predicts that Plastic Logic's e-paper initiative is likely to succeed.

"Unlike other display technologies, polymer e-paper displays can be bendable and flexible," Gartner's report stated.

"They can also be fabricated on curved (but rigid) surfaces such as car dashboards, and require almost no power to maintain an image. Signage is already an attractive market for this technology.

"As polymer electronics advance, devices could be embedded in clothing, soft toys and other products, where they could be used for radio frequency identification tags.

"Flexible circuits used as price tags and security devices could be invisibly woven into clothing, providing benefits for retailers. The circuits could also store washing instructions that would be sensed by washing machines."

Polymer electronics could also be used to display moving images on T-shirts, allowing consumers to use images from digital cameras.

"Plastic electronics can be produced in large sheets but are relatively slow in operation. They will not replace silicon chips, which have a lower cost per transistor and offer dense, sophisticated and fast logic capabilities," Gartner stated.

"Plastic circuits will thus be used in new and emerging applications like those mentioned above. We believe that plastic transistors will initially succeed where their large-area capability is combined with the dense fast logic of silicon."

Other companies working on polymer technology include IBM, Philips, Xerox, Hitachi, Samsung and AU Optronics.
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