Thursday, July 28, 2005

E-paper: future of RFID, intelligent packaging?

A prototype of electronic-paper could be the future for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and for intelligent packaging, according to the company developing the technology.

UK-based Plastic Logic says it has developed a a paper-like material whose display properties change when a voltage is applied. The technology is being built to be used for electronic books, electronic maps and electronic newspapers. The technology can also be used for sensors, labels, RFID tags, intelligent packaging and disposable electronic gadgets.

A number of companies have been attempting to develop electronic "ink" and electronic flexible displays for years. Such technology has the potential to radically change the publishing, display, packaging, ink and label industries.

Electronic ink, when used in conjunction with flexible plastic display technology would have the ability to change according to imbedded instructions. For example a simple food label would be able to carry a wider variety of information than is currently available using the same-sized paper version. Readers would be able to scroll through information on an e-label.

Flexible displays would also be foldable, allowing them to be easily put in a pocket or bag. Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), Lucent and E Ink are also working on versions of the technology.

In the UK Plastic Logic is currently spearheading manufacturing development on a €23m EU project to develop plastic electronics that is thin, flexible and low-cost.

The project aims to exploit polymer electronics to enable a new generation of low-cost ‘thinking’ devices that interact with their environment and communicate with people. Such sensors could have the ability to be used on "intelligent" packaging, which would warn people when food has perished, according to the project description.

Plastic Logic is also working with twenty partners on the EU's €26m Flexidis project. One section of the project is developing organic light-emitting diode displays. Another section is developing flexible electronic-paper displays, which might be used for labels or as RFID devices.

The key is to bring down the cost of RFID, a technology which is currently being used as a tool to track individual products as they are packaged and shipped.

The high cost of RFID chips is one factor cited as a major barrier to the wider introduction of the technology.

In May, Plastic Logic announced the opening of a new prototyping facility in Cambridge to produce active-matrix backplanes for flexible e-reader displays. The prototype line can fabricate up to 100 A5-sized panels a week. Each has 100dpi to 150dpi resolution and can be bended. The company says it expects to produce colour displays with 100dpi resolution next year.

The company uses a low temperature process, which brings down the cost of the devices. Plastic Logic was established in November 2000, as a spin-off from Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory.