HP Labs working on “live” paper

PALO ALTO, Calif. – From “live” paper to paper-like displays, HP Labs is working on projects that may – or may not – find their way into future products.

In a rare tour of its research labs recently, HP unveiled some new and innovative technologies in commercial print media, as part of HP’s Enterprise Imaging and Printing Press and Analyst Conference held in San Francisco last week.

Live paper is about bringing the efficiencies of digital workflows to paper-based documents, said Keith Moore, distinguished technologist with HP’s Digital Printing and Imaging Lab. The next key office trend, he said, is moving from printing on plain paper to printing on “live” paper, for security, compliance, document identification and content management.

Documents carry their own content or identity, said Moore. Paper can be linked to digital content, thereby serving as a token for that digital content. Live paper would include a bar code, RFID tag or MemorySpot (a tiny dot embedded in the paper) that could be scanned by a device attached to a printer, so you could print the latest version of a document without having to track it down on your computer. Live paper could also include logs or even audio.

While there are a number of potential applications for this technology, one that could affect the health-care field is pharma-spot and patient-spot, where a MemorySpot is scanned for either prescription information or to provide a log of a patient’s medical history. Some 10 per cent of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. are counterfeit, said Moore, so the MemorySpot could help identify if medication was, in fact, real – and could even provide an audio clip to explain how to use that medication.

MemorySpots, unlike RFID tags, don’t require batteries and can hold much more information. They’re embeddable within paper, plastic, cards or just about any other material. With megabits of memory and an on-board authenticator, a MemorySpot can store everything from documents to photos to audio clips, said Moore.

HP Labs is also working on future display technologies that it says could one day match or even replace paper. HP’s research into paper-like displays has resulted in the development of a printable plastic display technology, said Jim Brug, manager of imaging materials at HP Labs. A low-temperature plastic imprinting process allows continuous fabrication of features in a roll-to-roll process, which eliminates the expensive photolithography used to make today’s flat panel displays.

Various uses for this technology are being investigated, such as liquid crystal displays that can support print-like pixel densities over large areas and hold their image when disconnected from their power supply, as well as light-emitting devices that incorporate nanocrystals in polymers (displays using these materials will have the long lifespan and colour purity found in LEDs, but are easier to manufacture using ink-jet technology). Ultimately, this could lead to “e-print” devices, such as electronic books, magazines and photo albums, as well as dynamic posters or signs.

Other technologies in the works include fine art reproduction, which is currently being used by the National Gallery in London (featuring works by Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Monet).

Cameras see colour differently than humans do, making colour correction difficult. There’s also a variety of artwork, from oil to acrylic to watercolour. HP Labs is continuing to improve upon its fine art reproduction technology, which could one day include textures, said John Meyer, director of the Digital Printing and Imaging Lab.

Its current technology provides colorimetric accuracy (accurate colour under a particular illuminant), simplified capture, automated workflow and device independence, so it’s not tied to a specific camera manufacturer.

HP Labs also has a prototype wearable camera in the form of sunglasses. This is meant to capture memories “in the event” by being an always-on wearable camera with semi-automatic selection of the “best bits,” said Huw Robson, director of the Media Technologies Lab.

The prototype provides simultaneous capture of stills and video, more than three hours of storage and a rolling buffer (meaning it saves the previous 20 seconds and following five minutes). HP is exploring the potential value of this technology, but has no product plans yet.

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