Tough Fight Ahead

The Gyricon display will be entering an extremely competitive market, says Alan Sobel, editor of the Journal for the Society of Information Display. "There's something like four billion dollars in [display] production equipment on line right now," he says. "The people who've invested their money are going to fight tooth and nail to preserve that investment. Xerox will have to demonstrate they're better in performance, viewing angle, brightness, and price before it [Gyricon] has a chance of succeeding."

Elliott Schlamm of Elliott Schlamm Associates, a display consulting company based in Wayside, NJ, points out that the Gyricon "is a fine concept. But the challenge will be: How do you make those millions of balls all the same size? How do you get the oil in that silicon sheath? What happens if the display is in the sun? Will the oil expand? How expensive will the display be?"

Sheridon feels confident he and his team have the answers to these questions. But, he says, many specifics must remain confidential until the Gyricon screen is commercially marketed. Sheridon adds that his team has already made several prototypes of the display technology for Xerox's internal use, and they expect to have a prototype for external use this fall. He says that commercial versions of Gyricon "certainly will be available by the end of this decade."

Sheridon is optimistic about the future of Gyricon. "It's a marvelous technology," he says. "They'll be the displays closest to paper, they'll have the highest reflectivity. I think in the long run the Gyricon will be a well-accepted display."


Nicholas Sheridon is not the only researcher working on a thin film display. An electronic book consisting of hundreds of flexible thin film displays placed onto paper is under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, Cambridge, MA.


Dr. Joseph Jacobson is trying to perfect a display technology based on encapsulating reversible two-tone particles--each reportedly about 30 microns in size, about the size of a toner particle--inside spheres made of conductive polymer, a type of vinyl. The spheres are then bound onto a sheet of paper (or any surface). No wires or addressing electrodes are needed because the spheres themselves carry electrical signals to the particles, which respond by rotating. The Things That Think consortium, a group of 36 companies that includes Microsoft Corporation and Compaq Computer Corporation, is funding Jacobson's research.

Jacobson, who received his Ph.D. in physics at MIT in 1992, envisions his digital book would contain 200 to 300 pages and be about the size and weight of a normal book. Powered by a couple of AA batteries, the electronic book would be reprogrammable, that is, you could download book after book to its memory and have the electronic ink reconfigure itself for each new text.


The ultimate goal of his work, says Jacobson, is to perfect a device that will improve display technology in general, for items ranging from an electronic book to a laptop computer.

Jacobson expects to have a prototype of his electronic book ready by the end of 1998.


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