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Siemens Claims "Electronic Paper" Available in Two Years

Paper-thin digital screens which can display advertising and information on product packaging may only be two years away, according to German electronic giant Siemens.

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In the near future, your pizza box might advise you to spend more time at the gym

Bleary-eyed, you stagger to the breakfast table in search of life-affirming orange juice and that caffeine kick you need to start your day. But instead of the unthreatening image of a happy nuclear family of mum, dad and 2.4 kids sharing a nutritious breakfast on the back of your cereal package, there's a flashing electronic display telling you how eating your bowl of bran can give you the world's most efficient digestive system.

Sounds like a breakfast scene from a science fiction movie or maybe the worst nightmare of the hung-over? Well, it could well be the future if the boffins at German technology giant Siemens get their way.

The electronics company has announced that is only about two years away from changing the way that disposable packaging carries its advertising and information forever. Conventional labels may well go the same way as the packaging that carries them by ending up in the dustbin of history if Siemens make good on their promise to have digital, wafer-thin flat screens flashing and blinking graphics at customers from all manner of products by 2008.

Flashi n g displays a n d i n formatio n o n packagi n g

The display technology, which is composed of a polymer-based photochromic material, will allow companies to display moving adverts, nutritional information and special offers on their product ranges.

To achieve that spell-binding flashing effect which is designed to lure consumers to the product, the screens receive an on-off electrical charge from minute batteries which stimulate an electrochemical reaction. This prompts the digital text and images to appear and disappear.

"When kids see flashing pictures on cereal boxes we don't expect them to just ask for the product, but to say, 'I want it,'" said Axel Gerlt, an engineer on the Siemens project, in an interview with Wired magazine.

The prototypes, which will eventually be among first phase of screens to be attached to packaging, currently resemble a calculator screen and have a monochromatic display. Siemens said that by 2007, color screens with a resolution of 80 dpi producing simplistic moving images would be available and a year later the resolution could double.

Sieme n s n ot ruli n g out video displays i n future

Siemens Firmenlogo

Siemens predict their digital displays will be able to support video in future

However, Siemens had news for those who are envisaging their breakfast news coming to them on the back of a cereal box in the near future. While video streaming is likely to happen, the company said, it won't be any time soon. The chemical reaction that produces the crude pictures at the moment is to slow to support video.

"Video could happen, but that is not what this technology is about for now," Gerlt told Wired.

Some scientists are not so enthusiastic or optimistic. The electrochromic material being developed by Siemens has yet to prove its stability and performance when mass produced, according to researchers.

Critics cite i n stability a n d performa n ce as drawbacks

Problems such as slow imaging-response time and device instability have been impediments to commercialization during the 30 or so years that the electronic industry has been working on producing the fabled "electronic paper."

One scientist even suggested that Siemens were "overstating" their claims.

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