Now you see it, maybe soon you won’t

Last week scientists at Xerox revealed that they had invented a special type of paper that can self-erase content after 16-24 hours and so can be used multiple times. While this technology, if implemented, would certainly have environmental advantages (in terms of less tress being chopped), it could also mean more cost savings for businesses, through the elimination of printer consumable costs. However certain questions must first be addressed…

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  December 4, 2006

|~||~||~|In my very first job I used to print a huge amount of reports every morning to give to my supervisor. I would then collect these all the next day, shred them, and crank out updated reports all over again. If ‘erasable paper’ had been around then, I could have simply reloaded the used reports into the printer and printed over them, and saved hundreds of trees a year into the bargain. So you can see why some green campaigners might already be praising Xerox’s in-house paper boffins. More importantly, because of how Xerox’s prototype printer works, businesses and home users will be able to save cash as they won’t have to replace toner cartridges every couple of months. Let’s dig deeper then and first see how erasable paper technology actually works. According to Xerox, a prototype printer creates on-page content using a light bar. This bar uses a specific wavelength of light as the writing source. The content then fades naturally over time or can be immediately erased by exposing it to heat. Now you might be thinking; ‘It’s great that the printed content can fade away, but what if I want to make corrections or highlight certain sections of text on the paper itself?’ The best solution I can think of is if Xerox offered a compatible light pen and highlighter. Such pens would not only solve this problem but would also mean the technology could be incorporated into drawing pads for the kids. They could draw, create doodles and then draw again on the same paper the next day, without you having to buy more. A win-win situation. I do have a few questions though too. Firstly, how secure is the faded content? With paper shredding for example, it’s practically impossible for anyone to see what’s been printed. However, if someone got their hands on a used sheet that previously contained confidential information, could they use a purple light or something similar to read the old content CSI-style? Secondly, can the paper itself be recycled? I certainly hope so. Moreover, how expensive will the paper be? And what about it if you want the content on it to last a week or a month? We’ll have to wait and see what happens for the time being, because even with working printer and paper prototypes to hand, Xerox hasn’t yet decided whether these technologies will be made commercially available. With the prospect of e-readers and electronic paper from E Ink and Sony due to go into mass production in the near future, an investment in pulp-based paper could be a shaky one for Xerox, according to some industry folk. Paul Saffo, who has acted as a consultant to Xerox during the project, for instance fears that the new technology might be too little, too late: “I worry that this would be like coming out with Super 8 just before the video camera”, he stated in an interview with “This would have been a bigger deal ten years ago. Nowadays there’s so much content getting read online, I wonder if time hasn’t passed this by”. A very good question indeed. What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s a little too late for Xerox to be reinventing paper? Or can you think of more potential uses for it? Either way, send your thoughts through to ||**||

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