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Gyricon is a type of electronic paper developed by Xerox at their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a world-famous facility for the development of electronic technology. Research and development on this product dates to the 1970s, making it an early entrant in the race to develop functional electronic paper. The idea behind products like Gyricon is that they could be used over and over to display material, for everything from reading the morning news to making copies of printed material.
This product contains a number of electrically charged bicolored beads suspended in plastic. When a charge is applied to a sheet of Gyricon, it causes the beads to rotate, changing the display as they turn. The image can remain static, or be changed again with another charge, in addition to being wiped. Theoretically, a single sheet could be used on thousands of occasions, providing a reusable and highly efficient way of displaying written and other visual information.
Working on the product, developers at Xerox imagined running Gyricon through miniature printers as well as using wand-like devices to apply charges to the paper. Wand tools could also scan, allowing people to pick information up in one location and transfer it to electronic paper, a useful tool for people like students taking notes. While Xerox stopped investing in development of the product for commercial purposes, they licensed the product to other companies interested in electronic paper products, a common practice used to make profits on new technology without having to invest in production costs.
Development of products like Gyricon is complicated by a number of factors, including concerns about how to make the electronic paper durable and strong enough to withstand years of use while keeping it thin enough to feel comfortable and easy to handle. Width of such products is a major concern, as the technology required to make electronic paper can be bulky, and development requires not only applying technology in new ways, but shrinking it to a more usable size and format.
Numerous companies have developed electronic paper products and no one product has dominated the market. Continued research into electronic paper is in progress at a number of companies interested in making products competitive in terms of pricing, clarity of images, and usability. There are a wide range of potential applications for such products and innovations in the industry are monitored closely by developers interested in using electronic paper and creating documents for display on such products.