An electronics giant and a Massachusetts company are hoping an infusion of capital and a licence agreement will bring "electronic paper" to market quicker.
Lucent Technologies' New Ventures Group on Tuesday announced it had made a multimillion-dollar investment into Cambridge, Massachusetts-based E Ink and established a minority equity position in the company. Bell Labs also has licensed its plastic transistor technology to E Ink.
The companies will work together to develop "electronic paper", flexible, plastic electronic displays made with a process similar to ink-on-paper printing. The final result could be plastic sheets that could be instantly updated by computer, internet or wireless connections. The technology could be used in cellular phones, handheld computers and electronic books and newspapers.
"I think that, through our immediate product, we have demonstrated to the world that electronic ink is viable and here today," said Jim Iuliano, E Ink's president and chief executive officer. "It's (like) a piece of paper that has a printer imbedded in it. It will type-set it on demand."
Electronic ink looks like regular ink, but it contains millions of microcapsules. Each capsule contains a mixture of dye pigment and pigment chips. The capsules react to electronic charges.
The Bell Labs plastic transistors possess properties similar to semiconductors formed on silicon chips, but they are flexible. Necessary circuitry is printed on the transistors in a process similar to silk-screening.
The transistors will work hand-in-hand with E Ink's ink technology.
"For each picture element or pixel, you will have one little transistor, and it will act like the memory," said Pierre Wiltzius, project leader for merging the ink and transistor technology at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey.
Each transistor will determine if the pixel is black, white or another colour. They will be located on a sheet not much thicker than a piece of acetate film.
Bell Labs has been working with E Ink since September 1999 on the technology. E Ink has raised $US53 million in two rounds of financing, Iuliano said. He said company officials believe they can bring the electronic paper technology to market in a three- to five-year period.
E Ink already has utilised its ink technology to aid retailers like JCPenney and Yahoo for in-store signs and outdoor billboards.
IBM, Motorola and newspaper and magazine publisher Hearst are corporate partners with E Ink's e-paper efforts. Xerox, partnering with 3M, is also working on electronic paper technology at its Palo Alto Research Center in California.