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The Readius is a rollable display unit, no larger than a pocket
tape recorder. It has been 'about to be released' since late 2006, but is
finally making steps towards commercial viability. The technology of foldable
electronic paper, taken one step further to that of rollable electronic paper,
in an attempt to make such displays as lightweight and convenient as possible.
There have been numerous problems of course. The main one being the very concept
of a rollable display itself.
As thin as paper, a rollable display can be completely rolled up into a tube
the size of a finger. The most modern readius prototype (not pictured) can
do that, but at the expense of the image elements themselves. All e-paper
works the same way, it is a mixture of black and white pigmentation cells,
that change from one state to the other, when an electric current is applied.
Even when the current is removed, they stay in their new state until another
electric current is applied. When a rollable display is required, these elements,
layered behind oner another, must be able to be adhesive to one another to
withstand any degree of distortion, they must be able to stretch at different
rates and return to normal - as the display is rolled forwards and backwards,
and not yield to either tensile or compressive forces, whilst maintaining
a usable display.
This greatly limits the choice of materials and structure of the display medium.
In additon to that, no e-paper display can handle fast movement, such as videos
or even animation. One page refresh per second is about the max. These challenges
all add up to a significant engineering exercise, which is why displays such
as this have taken so long to get quite right. Readius' development started
in the late 90s, so they haven't missed the launch date by much, in comparison.
The device itself supports the use of sim cards and flash cards, and has enough
storage capacity to handle a half dozen e-books in *.lit format. It serves as
a mobile phone without audio pickup when fully rolled up - insert a usb microphone
to use it fully. But, when unrolled, it will display books or magazines, even
websites via 3G phone connectivity on the rollable/foldable screen.
An early video of Readius from Febrruary 2008
As a concept, it is a bold one - by facilitating the use of
large displays, as thin as paper, in a rolled up, pocketable medium, the hope
is that everyone will be able ultimately, to carry all the work they need
with them, on a medium that is as physical as paper, and feels just like paper,
in weight and consistency, wherever they go. Of course, unlike paper, such
display mediums are unterable, all but uncuttable, and strong enough that
they will support the weight of the device they are attached to.
At the moment that also means they are extremely expensive to produce, but that
too, is part of what this, and devices like it are trying to work on. Economies
of scale. If these take off, it opens the door for others, as the price of manufacture
drops with volume. A paper-like display medium which by its very nature does not
fade with time, but whose message can change second by second, would be a boon
to many industries, not just print media, even if it is, for now, solely a black
and white offering.