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 user 2003-10-17 at 11:51:00 am Views: 138
  • #7779
    Xerox’s Tech Revolution

    Among the technology industry’s historic monuments sits Xerox PARC, the almost-legendary R&D facility nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley. Xerox also has a big research center in New York, and researchers from that facility and from PARC recently held a soiree in San Francisco to show some of the company’s key research efforts.



    Credited with developing the graphical user interface, the laser printer, and Ethernet, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center has also seen its share of tough times. In January of 2002 the imaging company spun off PARC, and today the center serves as a more focused facility to develop technologies that Xerox can commercialize itself, as well as license to other companies. The New York research facility complements PARC.

    “The goal is to develop research that one day will be available for internal development and licensing,” said Sophie Vandebroek, chief engineer at Xerox.

    About 85 percent of the company’s research portfolio right now is tied up in projects that hopefully will be commercialized in three years or less, she said. At Xerox, research is focused on what Vandebroek called “sustained innovation,” or the constant struggle to improve existing products, and “revolutionary innovation,” or the need to create new markets.

    Xerox shipped several of its top scientists and research projects up to a hotel in San Francisco last week to demonstrate some of its revolutionary innovations, work that could change the way users interact with the world over the next decade.


    Xerox, of course, was founded upon the copier, which later became the printer. But what makes a printer print is its ability to precisely deposit ink of a certain color and volume at a certain spot. Today, ink jet printers use tiny nozzles that spray the ink onto paper. But those inks are aqueous, or water-based, so each page must dry before the next can be printed. “What we’re looking at is using wax-based inks that would increase the output from 10 pages a minute to 100 pages a minute, using a phase change,” said Joel Kubby, a technical manager at Xerox’s Wilson Center for Research and Technology in New York state. “There would be no drying involved.”

    To deposit those inks, Xerox is researching MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems. Companies like Texas Instruments are using these tiny machines to project pixels onto movie screens and digital televisions, but Kubby is figuring out how to use them to inject ink onto paper.

    Viewed from the side, the tiny MEMS actuator, about 100 microns across, looks like a trampoline. When the printer applies a charge to the trampoline, it bends, sucking in ink from the reservoir. The actuator then snaps back, propelling the ink outward and onto the paper at about 1,400 times per second, Kubby said. The actuator itself can also rotate very slightly, to combine the ink with other colors to create the image.

    Working with Corning and Kodak, Xerox hopes to develop the MEMS actuators at the Center for Excellence in Infotonics in Canandaigua, New York. The plant is scheduled to come online in May 2004 and will manufacture MEMS actuators using a relatively ancient 2-micron manufacturing process. (Fabs at companies like Intel use facilities capable of manufacturing 0.18-micron devices.) The plant, once used to make ink jet nozzles, will turn out about 5,000 wafers per year, according to Kubby.

    Xerox is also using MEMS to help align the laser in laser printers on its photoreceptive belt, Kubby said.

    Xerox also showed off the MXP5400 imaging chip the company co-developed with Intel. Intel will manufacture the MXP5400 and MXP5800 for production later this year. Each chip is designed to serve as the print engine for a new generation of printers; the MXP5400 will include four processing engines, and the MXP5800 will include eight engines, each of which can run independently. The processors can also be daisy-chained to run together, providing additional computing horsepower.

    Consistent Color

    Consistent Color is one of Xerox’s most ambitious research technologies. In busy offices and print shops, producing reams of documents with color integrity staying consistent across them all is a big challenge. Changes in room temperature, fluttering of paper during the print process, and many other variables can cause variations in how color is reproduced.

    Lalit K. Mestha is the principal scientist on Xerox’s effort to correct the color consistency problem by applying self-regulating systems that can sit within printers. A sensor called a spectrophotometer decomposes colors into individual wavelengths and determines their intensities. Color adjustments are made during the print job based on these spectral measurements.

    “I’ve been at this for five years,” said Mestha, “and the biggest challenge has been implementing this process for a moving target, because the paper is moving during the print job, making measurements difficult.” A few other bugaboos remain for the emerging technology, including lowering the cost of spectrophotometer sensors, which according to Mestha originally cost several thousand dollars but are significantly cheaper now. He wouldn’t name the price.



    If Consistent Color sounds like a gimmick, it isn’t. But another Xerox technology, what the company calls Switch-A-View, is actually something you might see on the back of cereal boxes and on popcorn buckets at the movies. And that’s perfectly okay with Robert Loce, a principal scientist at Xerox.

    Switch-a-View hearkens back to the old invisible ink strategy used to hide codes or paint designs on objects so they will glow under black light. But Xerox has taken this a step further, overlaying two or three images into one picture than can only be viewed using light of a certain color. The process can be made even more abstract, using color combinations to make the images even more complex. And instead of using focused colored light, the technology makes use of reflected colored light, such as that from a CRT or movie screen. Customers could buy a specially marked cereal box, then visit a Web site to illuminate the secret message.

    “Imagine going to a movie with a magic theme, such as Harry Potter (newsweb sites),” Loce said. “And during the previews, when the green screen comes on saying ‘The following preview is rated PG-13,’ you could flash another message saying, ‘Look at your popcorn now!’ And maybe the green would turn Harry Potter into Dumbledore.”

    Automated Document Layout and JPEG 2000

    Among the software technologies shown at Xerox’s event, Automated Document Layout was probably the most exciting. Xerox’s automated document design software takes the text, graphics, and other elements that might be parts of a complex document and flows them iteratively into sample page layouts. The process is akin to having a page design genie make the decisions that a graphic artist might normally make. PC Magazine has a current story on the technology, with input from lead scientist Lisa Purvis.

    As Automated Document Layout automatically orients Web pages for the user, a new standard called JPEG 2000 Multi-Layer (JPM) promises to help Web surfers decide how they want the page to render.

    The basic JPEG 2000 format was formed as a follow-on—though non-backward-compatible—to JPEG, the common image file format found in the majority of Web pages. JPEG 2000 images are compressed using wavelets, and when heavily compressed, appear better than heavily compressed JPEG images, at least subjectively. Part 6 of the JPEG 2000 standard consists of JPM, which stores compound images, which might include a caption or a background.

    If a user wished, he or she could use this technology to ask the Web page to resolve a particular component much more quickly than the others—not an issue for a normal Web page, perhaps, but much more useful when users select a high-resolution topographical map or other complex image. Xerox’s efforts are being led by Robert Buckley, a research fellow at Xerox.


    Xerox has been working for some time with the concept of glyphs—basically ways to store digital information on paper. At its San Francisco event, the company’s researchers demonstrated a branch of that research called GlyphSeals, based on DataGlyphs. DataGlyphs encode information in thousands of tiny glyphs—diagonal lines that can be as small as 1/100th of an inch in length.

    Each glyph slopes backward or forward to represent a binary 0 or 1. A person with the proper encoding software can take, an e-mail, for example, and encode it in DataGlyph format on a piece of paper. A scanner with the software can read the encoded data, translate this into its original text format, and print it. Think of the technology as a paper floppy disk, says Jeff Breidenbach, project leader for DataGlyphs.

    Xerox has perfected error correction technology for DataGlyphs, so if a user rips a small piece out of a page, the software can intelligently recover what’s missing from the page in the same way a music CD with error correction might continue playing if a small scratch is present. “If more than 20 percent of the DataGlyph is missing, though,” Breidenbach said, “then the software reports a decode failure.”


    The development of DataGlyphs underscores an important concern: Although digital documents can be encrypted and signed to secure them, today’s printed documents require similar cost-effective security measures. U.S. currency contains special inks and fibers to deter counterfeiting. But other unique documents—like say, a college transcript—could be copied, altered, and then sent to a potential employer.

    Reiner Eschbach, a research fellow at Xerox, developed what the company calls GlossMark. The glossy images printed on a digital laser printer, for example, come from a combination of the paper, ink, halftones, and the manner of fusing the ink onto the paper. By adjusting the combination, the gloss can be offset, creating an invisible image that can, however, be viewed when the paper is held a certain way. The effect is that of a poor man’s hologram;the image can be reproduced, Eschbach said, but only with the use of an expensive offset printer. A clever printer could also embed unique information, such as a time stamp, to force the counterfeiter to reproduce only the single image, he said.

    Digital Paper

    Representatives from Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Gyricon LLC, a subsidiary of Xerox, also attended the San Francisco event. Gyricon specializes in electronic paper technology, which was originally invented at PARC. A Gyricon SmartPaper sheet weighs a few ounces and is similar to a standard projector transparency. It consists of millions of tiny beads in oil-filled cavities sandwiched between two sheets of thin plastic. Each bead has a black and a white side. Words and images are created when an electrical charge rotates some of the beads, exposing the white side of certain beads and the black side of others.

    One of the primary applications for SmartPaper is as a replacement for signs at retail outlets, where all the signs could be updated by one person at a PC. “We have a pilot program in place with Macy’s,” said James G. Welch, Gyricon’s director of marketing. “Signs throughout Macy’s sit in inexpensive electronic paper displays. Each paper display has its own IP address, so a PC can be used to change what any sign says. Unlike paper, the signs are infinitely reimaginable—to be used over and over again.”

    Printed Organic Semiconductors

    Xerox is also involved in a race to use printers to create other fundamental structures, such as the backplanes for LCD-like displays. Like rival Plastic Logic, Xerox is developing methods of depositing plastic or organic integrated circuits that could be sprayed on by an ink jet like device, said Bob Street, a research fellow at PARC. Within the past few months, Xerox has been able to fabricate 300-micron test chips that the company will use as a springboard for manufacturing the arrays used to address the pixels of LCDs.

    The goal? Flexible displays that could be cheaply manufactured, paving the way for electronic paper.

    One of the problems is that semiconductors are fragile things: Usually organic semiconductors are formed, layer upon layer, by depositing a drop of polymer onto a substrate, then spinning this to create a uniform layer. “It’s a little more brutal spraying it directly onto a surface,” Street said. Still, Street added, Xerox officials believe that the company is “in the ballpark,” ready to begin moving forward on more advanced research.