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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 12/20/2010

Another e-reader revolution?

By Steven E. Levingston

File this one in the category of too amazing to be believed. But before you dismiss it consider that this latest marvel comes from a bona fide researcher at a reputable university, and, on closer examination, one realizes his work reflects broader research underway at other places.

In the past month, news has filtered out about possible breakthroughs in the design of e-readers – changes that could make the dapper iPad look and drive like a ’57 Studebaker.

At the University of Cincinnati, an electrical engineering professor named Andrew Steckl has delivered a paper along with doctoral student Duk Young Kim that demonstrates that everything current e-readers do in their plastic and glass casings could be done on a sheet of real paper.

This is where we stumble into the land of magical e-reading – the news tests credulity – but nonetheless, here’s what Steckl says may be possible.

Using a process that he describes, which involves something called electrowetting, he imagines we could have e-readers on paper that deliver books, news and video with speed, color and clarity just the way the iPad does today. And that’s not all: The device would feel like paper. You could roll it up, tote it around, and when you’re done with it, toss it in the trash without any environmental worries. And one more thing: The device requires very little power.

Steckl, who heads the university's Nanoelectronics Lab, is chasing after the future through that elusive process of electrowetting, which uses an electric charge to move around colored oil drops to produce the images on the device’s display. The same technological wizardy, it turns out, is fueling a great race among academics and business people to break us out of the rigid world of iPads and Kindles and take us into a future of flexible, real-paper electronic devices.

One of the leaders is a Dutch company called Liquavista, which recently demonstrated a flexible screen based on electrowetting technology. The company is also close to moving beyond a prototype of its standard hardscreen.

It all sounds so gee-wiz and hopeful, but does it also portend yet another e-reader revolution before we’ve even finished dancing in the streets over the current one?

By Steven E. Levingston  | December 20, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Digress  | Tags:  e-reader revolution; flexible e-readers; next generation e-readers  
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