Electro-displays to read like paper

An Irish company has developed a nanochromics system designed to make visual display sceens easier to read.

Technology that makes electronic visual displays as easy to read as white paper will be ready for its first commercial applications within months, claimed the company developing it.

Nanotechnology specialist Ntera has developed a system called nanochromics, which it said will make electronic displays easier on the eye by replicating the visual qualities of ink on paper.

The Dublin-based company hopes nanochromic visual displays will eventually be used on everything from smartcards to giant advertising billboards.

Ntera uses a nano-structured film of titanium dioxide – the same chemical used to turn paper white – to create a solid and highly reflective white background to its displays.

In front of the film are viologens – molecules which change from colourless to violet with the passage of an electric current. These take on the appearance of ink on paper when set against the reflective background.

According to Ntera, a high speed of electron transfer means the display can be changed very quickly, while its devices also offer low power consumption compared to standard LCDs and are very thin.

But the most obvious benefit to users will be the similarity in appearance to paper, said Dan Wood, business development manager for Ntera’s displays division.

‘In terms of its visual qualities, paper is a highly effective display medium compared to systems such as standard LCDs,’ said Wood. ‘It uses reflected ambient light making it easy to read, it can easily be viewed from acute angles and it is very thin.

‘But obviously its major drawback is that it can only be printed on once, while an electronic display can be updated continuously.’

Wood said Ntera – which has been developing Nanochromics for several years – is no more than four months away from its first wave of commercial applications for the technology.

One of these is likely to be displays for smartcards, which may need to show users how many units of value they have left.

Another early market could be marine electronics, where glare from sunlight on ordinary LCD screens can make them hard to read.

Further down the line, Wood said ‘e-books’ which recreate the experience of reading printed paper in electronic form would be technically possible, once hardware able to deliver the text data to a Nanochromic display was developed.

‘We can also envisage the technology being used by the advertising industry to replace paper-based poster hoardings,’ he said.

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