Paper-thin e-readers: Harry Potter magic becomes reality

electrowetting-demonstration-e-paperWhile the moving pictures in Harry Potter newspapers are magic, a breakthrough in display technology could make paper-thin, disposable e-readers a reality. DNA reports that University of Cincinnati researchers may soon come up with disposable e-reading devices that, in theory, could perform actions similar to an Amazon Kindle, but on actual paper.

Andrew Steckl, an engineering researcher at the university, discovered the new paper-based display technology. Along with UC doctoral student Duk Young Kim, Steckl demonstrated that paper can be used as a flexible material for an electrowetting device. Electrowetting involves applying an electric current to millions of tiny droplets within a display to form images, much like how thousands of pixels make up computer and HDTV screens. Previously, glass was needed for electrowetting.

“Nothing looks better than paper for reading,” said Steckl. “We hope to have something that would actually look like paper but behave like a computer monitor in terms of its ability to store information. We would have something that is very cheap, very fast, full-color and at the end of the day or the end of the week, you could pitch it into the trash.”

E Ink, the technology used in Amazon’s Kindle and other e-reader devices, is a main competitor, but Steckl argues that electrowetting is up to 10 times faster than E Ink and could produce refresh rates high enough to reasonably play moving video, something that current E Ink technology has a difficult time with. He also believes that hard-screened E Ink devices are too expensive and fragile. However, E Ink has a bit of a head start. It may be three to five years before Electrowetting e-paper makes its first commercial appearance.

Now, all we can hope is that our moving e-paper will look more like those at Hogwarts and less like the constantly singing cereal boxes in Minority Report. No one wants to listen to Toucan Sam follow his every time they open the cupboard.