Xerox reveals transient documents

The paperless office remains a myth, so Xerox has designed paper that will display information for a few hours, after which it can be reused

Alun Williams
7 Sep 2006

Xerox has lifted the veil from some of its research and development work in the field of printing. The cutting-edge research highlighted at a press event involved current projects that are expected to see the commercial light of day within 18-months, including a twist on the theme of invisible ink.

Mario Jarmasz, an engineer from one of the company's R&D centres, in Grenoble, was speaking at the launch of the Xerox's entry-level A4-only multi-function printers. As well as a looking at 'print infrastructure mining', which brings the techniques of data mining to enterprise print logs to better optimise the flow of print jobs around an organisation, he also demoed the very intriguing 'transient documents'.

This offers the prospect of reusable paper in the sense that the content is automatically erased after a period of time, ready for fresh printing. Inspired by the fact that many print outs have a life-span of a few hours (think of the emails you may print out just to read, or the content you proof read on the train journey back home), the specially prepared paper will preserve its content for up to 16 hours.

The paper has a photochromic compound that changes from a clear state to a coloured state under ultra-violet light. This can create the print face, which will duly fade with time. Further research is being undertaken to give the option of subsequently preserving the content if the user desires, which might literally involve warming up old data through the heating of the paper.

Returning to the Xerography roots of company founder Chester Carlson, the purplish printing can nonetheless support a 1200dpi printing resolution.

Jarmasz also demonstrated the company's work on mobile document imaging, for example capturing data from business cards through a process of OCR compression and then transmission. Possible developments of this work include expanding email interfaces to incorporate handwritten input and the management of distributed forms.

Xerox, of course, is legendary for its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which claims credit for developing Ethernet and laser printers as well as the first personal computer. Having developed the machines, the researchers then wanted to connect them and then to print, and the rest is history.

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