The paperless revolution in which we now find ourselves is not so much a revolution as a slow burning movement anchored primarily by the logistics involved in changing systems and a lingering resistance to wholly trust technology. But the technology is there. Waiting. In fact the E-Ink concept was originally penned way back in the 1970’s and ironically there it stayed, on paper, until a couple of boffins from MIT filed a flurry of patents in the mid to late nineties and early noughties, finally bringing life to the idea.
The technology behind E-Ink is beautifully simple. Floating in a clear oil you have positively charged black particles and negatively charged white particles. This, housed within a small transparent capsule, forms a single pixel, tens of thousands of which are meshed behind a clear screen. Each pixel is placed between electrodes and a charge is given to the electrode to determine the position of the charged black and white particles and thus the image presented on the screen. As per the first law of electrostatics, particles with like charges repel and those with opposing charges attract so when an electrode is given a negative charge, it attracts the positively charged black particles, simultaneously displacing and repelling the white particles. The result is that the white particles are then forced to the top of the screen and that pixel is now a white pixel. Conversely, when the electrode is given a positive charge, it attracts the negatively charged white particles, repels the black particles and we see the pixel as being black. For even greater image sharpness the charge can be bifurcated such that a single pixel (microcapsule) can present as black on one side and white on the other, or vice versa.
In many ways e-ink is simply an advancement of the old etch-a-sketch children’s toy, except where a magnetic stimulus is used to change the state of a pixel, e-ink uses an electrostatic charge. Crucially, there is one further key commonality; once an image is created on the screen, there it stays even with the device powered down. This vital feature is quite unlike almost all other forms of electronic screen where displaying an image requires ongoing power. Whether LCD, LED, AMOLED, QLED, plasma et al, once the power goes, so does the image. With E-Ink, it takes no power to maintain the image on the screen. Until a new charge arrangement is input by the user, the image will remain visible with no degradation.
E-ink isn’t suitable for every application. You wouldn’t, for instance, want your TV to use e-ink. It does, however, excel in some very specific areas. First to mind is of course Amazon’s Kindle device where e-ink brings about incredible battery life, a screen that can be used in bright sunlight and a paper-like reading experience that can be less stressful on the eyes and less stimulating for those who read at night. Digital paper is gathering momentum with some major players like Sony driving the market forward with their 10 and 13 inch tablets. Here, not only can you read text on the screen, but you can also edit text, highlight it, format it, etc, all the while still benefiting from the incredible battery life and the user friendly screen, etc. Sony, amongst others, are also using the technology to try and solve one of the key problems smartwatches have with their incessant demand for charge. With most smartwatches typically yearning to suckle from the national grid daily, watches using E-ink technology can have battery lives of 30 days, 3 months or even a reported 2 years in one case. And the same is happening with smartphones with a recent release boasting a battery life in excess of two weeks. And that’s not to mention the number of small home use medical devices that use an E-Ink screen. Every diabetic, for instance, will be familiar with that monochromatic display.
But surely there’s more to be had from this technology? With it’s incredible flexibility, power efficiency, high visibility and eco friendliness, American Bright agree wholeheartedly and eagerly introduce their E-Paper Display range.
Imagine a supermarket where every item on every shelf is mated to a small E-Paper display showing the product details, the price and the barcode. When the price changes, there’s no more printing labels. When an item goes out of stock, there’s no more stickers to apply or signs to place. It’s just a case of updating that screen through the press of a few keys, locally in the store, centrally from head office or nationally by the group. With full control and immediacy of action, finally the price display mechanism can catch up with the rest of the frenetic paced dynamism of the supermarket industry.
Hospitals have multi-million pound scanning machines, highly trained staff, robotic operations and cellular even genetic manipulation at their fingertips. Yet what is the first thing that happens when you go into a hospital bed? Your name is scribbled on a white board or written on a sticker above your bed. Sometimes. A colleague of mine visited his sister after her gallbladder operation to find that, according to the board, she’d aged 20 years, grown a beard and changed her name to Geoffrey. Imagine if all hospitals simply had American Bright’s E-Paper technology. Every bed clearly signed, every patient added at the touch of a button along with special notes, allergies, dietary requirements, etc. Every time a shift changes, the doctor’s name is automatically updated in line with the roster. How many mistakes could be avoided? How much time could be saved?
And what about café’s constantly changing their menus? Restaurants and their smudges-of-chalk specials boards, vending machines, kiosks and luggage manufacturers? Oh and what about … well, you get the gist. Anything that needs to be regularly updated and displayed is a prime target for American Bright’s E-Paper.
With almost zero power consumption, sizes from a credit card to a wall display and ongoing software support, the future of signage has arrived and it’s called E-Paper from American Bright.