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How Fabric PCs Will Work


Electronic Paper
A Fujitsu employee displays the prototype model of an electronic paper display that is flexible and does not blur even if it is bent or pressed by a finger.
A Fujitsu employee displays the prototype model of an electronic paper display that is flexible and does not blur even if it is bent or pressed by a finger.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

For a thin and bendable display, Fabric PCs will rely on a cutting-edge technology called e-paper, or electronic paper. The technology behind e-paper was pioneered in the 1970s by Nick Sheridan at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and has continued to evolve since that time. Today there are several different implementations of the basic e-paper concept.

One example of e-paper technology is called E ink, made by the E ink Corporation. We'll very briefly touch here on how E Ink technology works, but to learn much more about it, read How Electronic Ink Works. Basically, this form of e-paper is created by sandwiching millions of tiny plastic wells between two sheets of flexible plastic. Each well contains both white and black particles, suspended within a clear fluid. The key to this technology is that the white and black particles have opposite charges, so when an electric voltage is applied to individual wells -- through circuitry embedded underneath -- the black and white particles can be separated to opposite sides. In this way, the face-up side of each well can be set to appear either as black or white as seen through the top layer of clear plastic. Each well functions as a separate pixel on the E ink display.

E-paper, based on this type of design, can be curled or even folded like a sheet of laminated paper, and because of its light weight and flexibility it's also much less fragile than traditional displays. Fujitsu's Fabric PC concept designs take full advantage of these characteristics by incorporating large displays that can fold up to fit within a Fabric PC's case when it is closed. The power requirements for e-paper displays are also much lower than for traditional displays. For Fabric PC's, this will translate into longer battery life and/or smaller batteries.

Keep in mind that the Fabric PC is currently just a concept design and that even working prototypes have yet to be developed. One of the factors that Fabric PC development will depend upon is continued progress in e-paper technology. As exciting as e-paper is, it's important to stress that e-paper technology is still a work in progress, too. There are considerable technical challenges that must be overcome before low-cost e-paper displays will be available. For example, just one of those challenges will be the ability to display a full range of colors that can also update quickly enough to accommodate video output. Bringing the cost of e-paper displays down to an affordable level will be especially important as well.

What other technologies similar to the Fabric PC concept are in store for the near future? Keep reading to find out.