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 user 2007-11-16 at 11:51:00 am Views: 34
  • #20896

    Why disappearing ink isn’t just for spies
    2007 The fact that 21 percent of black-and-white copier documents are
    returned to the recycling bin on the same day they are produced has
    inspired some tech companies to investigate alternativesAccording to
    Brinda Dalal, an anthropologist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center
    (PARC), of the 1,200 pages of printed information the average office
    worker prints per month, 44.5 percent are for daily use, such as
    assignments, drafts or emails.The problem is that, in most offices,
    paper is commonly used as a medium of display rather than storage or
    transfer. Dalal discovered that 21 percent of black-and- white copier
    documents are returned to the recycling bin on the same day they are
    produced.In most companies, documents are created and transferred
    between individuals digitally, and then stored either on central
    servers or personal computers. They are only printed out or copied when
    needed for meetings, editing and annotating, or reading away from a
    computer, all of which imply a fairly transient use for the printed
    document.The result is, of course, an enormous quantity of waste paper,
    paper that is not only increasingly expensive to buy, but that involves
    the use of a considerable amount of natural resources, in particular
    energy.It takes about 202,000 Joules to manufacture one sheet of virgin
    paper. Recycling that sheet takes a further 114,000 Joules. When you
    consider that, this year alone, about 2.5 trillion pages will be
    printed worldwide, it is clear that the production and recycling of
    paper represents an enormous amount of energy usage; not to mention the
    cutting down of a few forests.

    Xerox transient paper technology
    is just one of the companies investigating how to use paper more
    efficiently. The company believes the solution to this environmental
    problem is to reuse the paper.Reusable paper is, of course, hardly a
    new idea. Medieval monks reused velum manuscripts by scraping off the
    top layer containing the ink from the original document to create a
    clean surface suitable for writing a new document — known as
    palimpsests.The idea of scraping off the top layer to expose a clean
    new surface for writing has been adapted to paper. Right up until 2005
    it was possible in the US to buy a reusable paper called Eaton’s
    Corrasable Bond, which had a glazed surface that could be removed by
    friction.However, such techniques are hardly suitable in an era of
    photocopiers and computer printers. In response to Brinda Dalal’s
    research on paper usage in offices, the solution developed by Xerox’s
    researchers at Palo Alto and Xerox Research Centre of Canada labs over
    the past three years is an office copier/printer system that creates
    paper-based transient documents where the printed information simply
    disappears within about 16 hours, allowing the paper to be
    reused.”Despite our reliance on computers to share and process
    information, there is still a strong dependence on the printed page for
    reading and absorbing content. Of course, we’d all like to use less
    paper, but we know from talking with customers that many people still
    prefer to work with information on paper. Self-erasing documents for
    short-term use offers the best of both worlds,” says Paul Smith,
    manager of Xerox Canada Research Centre’s new materials design and
    synthesis lab.In fact, the self-erasing concept itself  is not entirely
    new. In the 1990s, Japanese office-equipment maker Ricoh developed a
    commercial system that removed toner from paper in order to make it
    possible to recycle individual sheets up to 10 times. However, this
    system failed commercially and is no longer available.In 2003 Toshiba
    also developed and marketed a system using a special blue, decolourable
    ink that disappeared when the paper was heated in a special eraser box.
    However, the high price of the erasing system and the paper and the
    toner, coupled with the time and effort required to erase documents has
    meant that this product has rarely been seen outside Japan.Xerox has
    yet to make a decision to go to market with its technology. “This will
    remain a research project for some time,” said Eric Shrader, Xerox PARC
    area manager, industrial inkjet systems. “Our experiments prove that it
    can be done, and that is the first step, but not the only one, to
    developing a system that is commercially viable.”However, the Xerox
    system’s developers do believe that their technique solves most of the
    major commercial limitations that earlier developers such as Toshiba
    and Ricoh encountered. Its first advantage is that it requires no
    special eraser system  the print simply disappears after 16 hours.
    Second, no special toner……is required. Third, paper is used, unlike
    the Toshiba system which uses sheets of PET — the type of plastic used
    in drinks bottles — and costs over $5 per sheet. Sheets of special
    coated paper for the Xerox system will cost little more than an
    ordinary sheet of paper.

    In environmental terms this is a very
    attractive concept. Not only does the technique use no toner, itself a
    source of pollution in the office, but re-imaging a sheet of Xerox
    erasable paper takes only about 200 Joules, so every re-use can save an
    enormous amount of energy. With 30 to 100 re-uses per sheet, this
    represents a very large saving in energy.The Xerox erasable paper, or
    “transient paper” as the company prefers to call it, is simply an
    ordinary sheet of printer paper that is coated with a thin layer of a
    special chemical that changes from transparent to black when exposed to
    light of a certain frequency. This paper is not only cheap to produce,
    but it can also be pre-printed with coloured letter-headings, logos and
    so on. So the Xerox transient paper looks and feels like an ordinary
    sheet of photocopied or laser printed paper, although the print is more
    grey than black. The difference, of course, is that the print will
    completely disappear within 16 to 20 hours of printing, leaving just
    the original blank sheet of paper that can then be re-used to print
    another document.”Transient paper has added security uses. You can
    imagine that even if you had left your document out in the open in the
    office, by mistake, then by the next day there’d be nothing on it, so
    if you had left sensitive data lying about you’d know it wouldn’t be
    there by morning,” says Xerox’s Paul Smith.

    Printing transient
    documents will require a special printer, and Xerox has developed and
    demonstrated prototype units that incorporate a special optical print
    head, which can deliver the pixel-sized dots of light needed to print
    an image.Another useful feature of the printer/copier mechanism is that
    it can be used to erase text. Rather than waiting for the print on a
    page to disappear naturally, the page can be fed back into the machine
    where it will be erased and made available for immediate use. More
    impressively, the system can be used to erase and correct a specific
    typo on a page, a great feature if you have ever printed out 100 copies
    of a document and then noticed a serious mistake.According to Paul
    Smith, the researchers have considered people’s need  to annotate
    documents and have produced a special pen with a light head that will
    allow hand-written notes to be created on any sheet of transient paper.
    These notes, like the printed text being annotated, will disappear
    after 16 hours.

    Has transient paper arrived too late?
    is at pains to point out that its transient paper technology is not yet
    commercially available, and no decision has been made as to when it
    will be marketed, if at all.Indeed, some industry analysts believe that
    given the rapid development of flexible e-paper display technologies,
    the Xerox product is 10 years too late, and will be obsolete before it
    comes to market.Electronic alternatives to traditional paper and
    printer technology are already under development, such as document
    reader devices.These devices will use an electrophoretic display
    technology developed by E-Ink that generates a high-contrast image
    that, like paper, is readable in ambient light conditions. With a
    resolution of 170dpi, such electrophoretic e-paper displays offer a
    reading experience that is not dissimilar to reading conventional
    newsprint and, unlike the LCD displays used in laptops, will not
    require the use of a backlight.Early generations of reader devices
    using rigid electrophoretic e-paper displays are now in production, the
    best known is probably the Sony PRS-500, which is currently available
    only in the US and Japan. Another well-known device is the Iliad Reader
    from Irex Technologies of the Netherlands.Irex Technologies is already
    targeting paper replacement as an application for their reader, and to
    facilitate this it has incorporated a PDF viewer into the device, which
    allows the display of any PDF document downloaded into it. The device
    even incorporates a wireless stylus that allows the user to annotate
    documents.Using the Iliad’s USB docking connector, it is possible to
    quickly and easily download several thousand PDF pages from a PC to the
    reader. Once stored……in the reader’s flash memory, they can be
    accessed and read whenever necessary on this lightweight portable
    reader.With a screen resolution of 1,024×768 (in a portrait
    orientation) on a eight-inch display, standard A4 documents are much
    reduced in size, and small print can be very hard to visually
    resolve.But technology developments mean that this current e-paper
    display-size limitation will disappear within the next couple of years,
    as devices emerge with A4-sized flexible displays. When this happens,
    the paper-replacement application for such devices should take off
    rapidly, as people start to see these devices as a viable alternative
    to the printer/copier and the paper document for portable offline
    document reading.

    Is there a future for transient paper?
    display devices will undoubtedly have a big impact on the use of
    printed paper publications and documents. A number of large newspapers
    around the world, such as Les Echos in Paris, are examining the use of
    such readers as way of delivering digital editions to their readers.
    Meanwhile, book publishers such as Random House and Harper Collins are
    digitising their entire list so that they are ready to take advantage
    of the arrival of e-paper based readers.If e-paper-based readers become
    widely used to read digital publications, they will undoubtedly also be
    used to read corporate and private documents that would today be
    printed on a laser or ink jet. Indeed, many analysts are predicting
    that sales of printers and copiers will have dropped considerably by
    2020, with e-paper-based readers being widely used as
    printer-replacement devices.So where does this leave Xerox with their
    transient paper? The answer is not necessarily as an environmentally
    friendly printing technology — e-paper readers are probably much better
    — but as an important contributor to a small but very important niche:
    information security.While it is possible to encrypt digital files and
    lock them away in password-protected systems, they become vulnerable to
    theft once they are printed out. Someone may forgetfully leave a copy
    lying on a desk, or fail to shred it, throwing it in the bin instead.
    In such cases, the document is vulnerable to being viewed by
    unauthorised individuals both inside and outside the company.The
    photocopier has long been seen as a weak point in corporate security.
    It is all too easy for a disaffected employee to take unauthorised
    copies of confidential documents. By using only transient paper copiers
    in a company, the utility of photocopiers is retained, while the
    security risk is greatly reduced.The time limit of sensitive data
    printed on transient paper, whereby the contents disappears 16 hours
    after it is printed, is long enough for data to be used in meetings yet
    short enough to prevent it accidentally turning up on a waste dump, or
    worse still on the desk of a competitor or an inquisitive journalist.It
    seems Xerox is still looking for a market for their transient paper
    technology, and it is emphatic that it has yet to make a decision as to
    whether it will become a commercial product. Its future may lie not in
    being the green paper product research.