The New Plastic Revolution

electronic paperThe writing’s on the wall. Well, it really will be, and in several other places. The revolution’s very nearly here, you see. We’re on the cusp of it. It’s been talked about before, but it’s really here. Within a year or few we’ll be carrying around completely new devices based on this technology, and there’ll be all sorts of things in the household and office. You may have heard the buzz, but if not, I’ll say it here too. It’s all about microscopic electronic circuitry based on polymers that conduct electricity. The novelty here is the plastic nature of the resulting circuitry and devices that you can build, where I am using the word “plastic” in its descriptive sense – it is flexible and can take lots of shapes quite readily.

There’s a revolution on the cusp, not because this is hugely new (it is not, and the basic science itself is quite old by electronics technology timelines), but because it has got to the stage where factories are being set up to manufacture large amounts of basic components, it seems. That’s quite a major milestone, in my view. Of course, the companies involved are making a big deal about it – and I’m doing their bidding by telling you about their little press bubble.

electronic paperCynicism aside, I do think that it is significant enough to watch the wave approaching from afar before it splashes over us. The most celebrated application will be large sheets of electronic displays – electronic paper – such as the ones depicted in the images here, but you can also imagine touch-activated controllers woven into fabrics, and information displays pasted onto all sorts of shapes – everywhere.

Just so you can get up to speed on it fast, the BBC have produced a little information page on the technology, focusing on the firm Plastic Logic (whose promotional pictures I’ve borrowed from their site) who are racing to build the first factory dedicated to all of this. Go and have a read of it. I do think that this might all come to us rather rapidly now that this stage has been reached, don’t you? Hang on to your hats!


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10 Responses to The New Plastic Revolution

  1. Romain says:

    I heard about it many times, but never saw it. I’m looking forward.
    I am wondering if with these devices you feel like reading a sheet of paper or a screen, because screens are exhausting when you read them for a long time.

  2. Clifford says:


    I’ve seen a device using one of these screens. It’s just like reading paper. It is wonderful.


  3. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    I’ve also followed that for some while, and I’m really looking forward to it. I hope it actually looks like paper… I HATE reading on a screen. However, I wonder whether it comes with the option to scribble on it? And how carefully do you have to treat it? Best,


  4. Clifford says:

    Hi B,

    I believe there’s nothing stopping you from taking a sharpie marker and scribbling on it. I don’t think that there’s any facility for removing that scribble though! 🙂

    Seriously, I do think that some devices are including touch input, and maybe write input. Have a look at the iRex iLiad as an example. That device and the Sony Reader are using E-ink’s technology for displays, which is maybe a bit different from Plastic Logic’s (?). See also the Sony Librié, (bigger screen) which has been replaced by the Reader.


  5. spyder says:

    It would be really nice if they could make these out of recycled or other sustainable plastics.

  6. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    thanks for the links!

    Hi spyder,

    I think recycled plastic has it’s limitations, because it’s usually mixed up from various plastics that are basically glued together. I.e. used plastic is collected, shredded to pieces and pressed to new forms. The resulting stuff can usually not be formed arbitrarily good. It’s used mostly for fairly solid things for which also the color doesn’t matter much. Like benches, children’s playgrounds, outside furniture, stuff like that. I have my doubts it’s possible to use it yet for fine works. This would probably require that one separates all the various plastics very precisely as to their chemical composition. Best,


  7. Plato says:

    Technological change, can no doubt cause changes in society. The way we have done things. This article in question.

    Artistic pulp figures, or designed fibre paper, depending on what kind of fibre you use, or reuse, makes for interesting items. Loosing the “craftsman” in this change, is like loosing part of what society had learnt and developed, requires a new breed of developers. No books or magazines? No newspapers.

    Soft tissue we will always need 😉 unless you can make synthetic fibre that is soft enough woven into a mat and is sensitive to the skin.

    I can speak from experience about intuitiveness developed in process controls, has now been overtaken by such technologies. Loosing that art form, and some may say how so, is part of change. It was hard to adjust.

    No one thinks of the livelihoods attach to those things that will go by the wayside?

  8. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    I’ve just emptied my snail-mail-box. Unbelievable what amount of spam adds up in 2 weeks. Since we were talking about going paperless: next to our mailbox-wall there is a huge trash bin. It was the same where I lived in CA, in AZ, and in many other places I’ve visited. I am pretty sure I am not the only one who just throws away all the ads that are distributed. It must be an enormous amount of paper each year that ends up completely unread in the garbage.

    Now, why I wonder about this is: in Germany you can go buy a sticker saying ‘no ads please’ (Keine Werbung Bitte) and put it on your mailbox. These stickers you can buy in almost every grocery or supermarket or the like. If I recall that correctly, since a decade or so there is a law saying you can in principle sue a company that ignores the sticker and spams you, which means that it actually does work. If you want to make an exception for a certain newsletter, say, from your favourite store, they will usually provide you with a sticker saying ‘YES’ and their name, or a logo. Why haven’t I ever seen that in the US? It is simple, it works, it avoids annoyingly full mailboxes and a lot of unnecessary garbage.



  9. Clifford says:

    There is a place you register to stop a lot of the junk arriving in your mailbox in the US. Just like there’s a “do not call” register that cuts down on a lot of the telemarketing unsolicited telephone calls.


  10. Bee says:

    Yeah, I know. The robinson list or so? But it’s kind of complicated and it only helps for those ads that are actually addressed to you. Besides this, I get at least 50% of spam that is intended for people who lived here before me, or maybe never lived here, who knows. For that, also the listing wouldn’t help. They even forward all the spam from the US, unbelievable!