Anyone who works in an office would attest that the paperless office remains a dream, with computers and printers often resulting in mountains of papers building up around one’s desk.
A recently published patent by Microsoft aims to address this by using e-Ink displays, which can of course be endlessly recycled and re-used, which would result in a significant reduction in paper usage.
Unfortunately e-Ink displays are at present a poor substitute for paper, offering neither the low cost or flexibility.
Microsoft’s idea is to divorce the bi-stable e-Ink display from its electronics, batteries, communication and other elements, creating a re-usable e-Ink “paper” and a new type of printer, which instead of using expensive ink would simply use electric fields to “write” information on the e-ink displays.
Because the e-ink display would have no electronics it would be both cheap and bendable, and therefore be a good stand-in for paper. To change the information on the page users would simply feed the sheet back into the printer again.
Microsoft’s patent imagines an innovation to the display which would expose both sides of the electrodes (the front and the back) to the front of the device, which would allow the printers to print by only addressing one side of the page, and which would simplify the construction of the e-Ink printers.
Unlike many of Microsoft’s patents I suspect this one will not end up in a product anytime soon, but given how tenaciously paper has hung on in the office Microsoft may eventually tackle this productivity issue with a comprehensive solution all of their own.
The patent can be seen here.