Xerox Corp. spends about $1 billion a year on research and development, gambling that it can predict the future of IT. Not surprisingly, most of the research is dedicated to the Stamford, Conn., companys core business: copiers and printers. But the results can range far afield from Xeroxs traditional photocopiers.
At a New York event sponsored by Xeroxs Innovation Group this month, a Xerox fellow, Beng Ong, presented a jet-printed plastic transistor that had been made with polythiophene-based, semiconductive polymer ink. Because plastic transistors can be fabricated using standard printing processes, they are much cheaper to manufacture than silicon transistors, Ong said.
The transistor may make it possible to create lightweight, flexible electric paper and portable posterlike monitors and television screens. Plastic chips cant match silicon in speed or size, but they could ultimately be used to create cheaper large-area devices such as flat-panel and flexible displays and low-end microelectronics such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, said Ong.
Ong said he has already created a prototype of a small display based on plastic transistors, and he expects to produce a larger prototype by years end. However, it could be several years before such a display hits the market.
Also at the event, Xerox subsidiary Gyricon LLC, of Ann Arbor, Mich., showcased the first commercial application of Xeroxs SmartPaper, which resembles a thin sheet of plastic, but invisible to the eye are the millions of microbeads in oil-filled cavities inside. The beads are two-sided; one hemisphere is black, the other white. Each side has an electric charge, and words and images are created when the beads are electronically stimulated. After the voltage is removed, the words and images remain, making the signs energy-efficient, said Gyricon President and CEO Bryan Lubel.
The signs are Wi-Fi-compatible and battery-powered, so they dont require a direct network or electrical connection. Users can update the signs remotely and wirelessly.
Xerox is exploring ways to combine its SmartPaper technology with plastic transistors to create electronic display screens that users can roll up and transport as easily as paper, said Lubel.
Keeping color consistent in printing devices is a big challenge because there are many variables that can cause irregularities, from fluctuations in room temperature to varying weights of paper, said Xerox scientist L.K. Mestha.
To combat this problem, Xerox is developing a self-regulating color management system that will sit inside a printer and automatically adjust color on the fly to eliminate variations. The system uses a sensor called a spectrophotometer, which decomposes colors into individual wavelengths and determines their intensities.
Mestha, who has been at work on this project for about six years, said Xerox will soon begin integrating the technology into its color laser printers.
Herve Gallaire, chief technology officer and president of Xeroxs Innovation Group, said plastic transistors and other technologies his team is developing could show up in new types of devices that will transform the way people work.
“The office of the future will be very distributed, very networked,” said Gallaire. “People will be connected with devices we know today—but many more of them—and they will be connected a lot more with their PDA [or] their phone. For example, your PDA could be the interface of your multifunction printer or scanner, and doing that would enable you to have your security connected through that particular device instead of separately on many different devices.
“Another direction is that all of these devices will be portals to Web services; in fact, youll be able to access applications and get the output of these applications through any of these devices,” said Gallaire. “In the future, devices will play a much larger role, becoming completely integrated in your environment.”
Gallaire said Xerox scientists are working toward that vision.
“We are developing wireless, mobile capabilities on our devices,” Gallaire said. “In terms of software, we do have a significant effort in the area of ubiquitous computing. You hear a lot about that, but were trying to really make that a reality.”