Forbes has a piece on smart paper company Gyricon, a Xerox subsidiary that’s debuted a retail signage product:

They’re made out of micron-sized wax beads that are black on one side, white on the other and have an electrical charge on them. The beads are placed between two layers of plastic and suspended in an emulsion that lets the beads rotate. “When we apply voltage to an area of [the sign] the beads move to create an image or a word,” Lubel explains. Using Gyricon’s software, messages can be sent from a central server to signs throughout the store, or even across an entire chain.

The black-and-white signs run on batteries because they only need power to change their messages. After the beads are moved, they stay put without a power source.

I suspect that the last bit is a small swipe at rival E Ink, whose smart paper, it is rumored, isn’t bistatic (I think that’s the right term)– it requires electricity to maintain its state. On the other hand, they’re closer to being able to do multi-colored signs.

Why focus on signage? We don’t really notice signs– they’re a great example of a technology that’s part of the background of our daily lives– but they’re a big business, and it takes a lot of work to put them up and change them. (Kind of like Web pages: setup is bad enough, but updating is a real pain!) Companies are betting that the virtues of e-paper will be most vivid in this area; the fact that you generally don’t look TOO closely at a sign is also a plus, since it means the signs can be two-color, or coarser than device displays.

But neither E Ink nor Gyricon want to stop with signs: they’re the first market, but there’s great potential elsewhere. I was at PARC last year, and got a demo of Gyricon’s paper; it struck me that it was a particularly flexible kind of technology, in the sense that it could be used in a lot of different places, in a lot of different ways. Application areas in which flexibility and lower power are also pluses– i.e. mobile devices– or where you want really BIG displays– classrooms, conference centers, and the like– are ones in which engineers would want to look at smart paper. That covers a lot of ground.

[via Smart Mobs]

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