E Ink (electronic ink) is a paper-like display technology, characterized by high brightness and contrast, a wide viewing angle, and ultra-low power requirements. The technology has been commercialized by E Ink Corporation, which was co-founded in 1997 by MIT undergraduates J.D. Albert & Barrett Comiskey, MIT Media Lab professor Joseph Jacobson, Jerome Rubin (LexisNexis co-founder) and Russ Wilcox.
The notion of a low-power paper-like display had existed since the 1970s, originally conceived by researchers at Xerox PARC, but had never been realized. While a post-doctoral student at Stanford university, physicist Joseph Jacobson envisioned a multi-page book with content that could be changed at the push of a button.
Neil Gershenfeld brought in Jacobson to the MIT Media Lab in 1995 after hearing his ideas for an electronic book. Jacobson in turn recruited MIT undergrads Barrett Comiskey, a math major, and J.D. Albert, a mechanical engineering major, to create the display technology required to realize his vision.
The initial approach was to create tiny spheres which were half white and half black, and which, depending on electric charge, would rotate such that the white side or the black side would be visible on the display. Albert and Comiskey had trouble creating these perfectly half-white, half-black spheres, and during his experiments, Albert accidentally created some all-white spheres.
Comiskey experimented with charging and encapsulating those all-white particles in microcapsules mixed in with a dark dye. The result was a system of microcapsules which could be applied to a surface and then could be charged independently to create black and white images. A first patent was filed for this microencapsulated electrophoretic display by MIT in October 1996.
The scientific paper was featured on the cover of peer-reviewed journal Nature, unusual for work done by undergraduate students. The advantage of the microencapsulated electrophoretic display, and its potential for satisfying the practical requirements of electronic paper are summarized in the abstract of the Nature paper:
“It has for many years been an ambition of researchers in display media to create a flexible low-cost system that is the electronic analogue of paper. In this context, microparticle-based displays have long intrigued researchers. Switchable contrast in such displays is achieved by the electromigration of highly scattering or absorbing microparticles (in the size range 0.1–5mm), quite distinct from the molecular-scale properties that govern the behaviour of the more familiar liquid-crystal displays. Micro-particle-based displays possess intrinsic bistability, exhibit extremely low power d.c. field addressing and have demonstrated high contrast and reflectivity. These features, combined with a near-lambertian viewing characteristic, result in an ‘ink on paper’ look. But such displays have to date suffered from short lifetimes and difficulty in manufacture. Here we report the synthesis of an electrophoretic ink based on the microencapsulation of an electrophoretic dispersion. The use of a microencapsulated electrophoretic medium solves the lifetime issues and permits the fabrication of a bistable electronic display solely by means of printing. This system may satisfy the practical requirements of electronic paper.”
A second patent was filed on the microencapsulated electrophoretic display by MIT in March 1997.
Subsequently, Albert, Comiskey and Jacobson along with Russ Wilcox and Jerome Rubin founded E Ink in 1997, two months prior to Albert and Comiskey’s graduation from MIT.
At the E Ink Corporation, Comiskey led the development effort of E Ink’s first generation of electronic ink, while Albert went on to develop the manufacturing methods used to make electronic ink displays in high volumes. Wilcox played a variety of business roles and served as CEO from 2004-2009.
On June 1, 2009, E Ink Corp. announced an agreement to be purchased by one of its primary business partners, Prime View Int'l Co. Ltd (元太科技工業), for US$215 million. However, from June to December 2009, the purchase price was re-negotiated and E Ink was finally officially acquired on Dec. 24, 2009 for $450 million. The purchase by this Taiwanese company has put the production of the E Ink EPD on a larger scale than before, as Prime View also owns BOE Hydis Technology Co. Ltd (京东方海帝士科技) and maintains a strategic partner relationship with Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp., which is now Chimei InnoLux Corporation (奇美電子), part of the Hon Hai-Foxconn Group (鴻海富士康集團). Foxconn is the sole ODM partner for Prime View's Netronix Inc. (振曜科技), the supplier of E Ink panel e-readers for rebranding - the end-user products may appear with any of several brands, e.g., Bookeen, COOL-ER, PocketBook, etc.
Honors and Awards
E Ink’s transformative impact on the publishing and reading industry has been recognized by several awards, including:
- Comiskey’s recognition by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer in 2002.
- The scheduled induction of Albert, Comiskey, and Jacobson into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) in May 2016, alongside society-transforming innovators such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, and Steve Jobs. The NIHF is a rarefied collection of engineers and innovators, only 100 of whom are living, with 500 total from the past 300 years.
The Motorola F3 was the first mobile phone to employ E Ink technology into its display, taking advantage of the material's ultra-low power consumption. In addition, the Samsung Alias 2 uses this technology as the display on the buttons change. The October 2008 limited edition North American issue of Esquire was the first magazine cover to integrate E Ink and featured flashing text. The cover was manufactured in Shanghai, China, was shipped refrigerated to the United States for binding and was powered by a nominal 90-day integrated battery supply.
Commercial Display Products
E Ink Vizplex is the internal name of E Ink's display technologies. Each version/model of Vizplex technology is marketed under different brand names, as detailed below. Vizplex is sometimes used to refer to specifically the first generation of the line, in order to distinguish it from further generations, though properly speaking, Pearl and Triton are also types of Vizplex displays, as indicated by the text "E Ink Vizplex" at the bottom of startup screens for those displays.
E Ink Pearl
E Ink Pearl, announced on July 31, 2010, is the second generation of E Ink Vizplex displays, a higher contrast screen built with E Ink Pearl Imaging Film. The updated Amazon Kindle DX was the first device announced to use the screen, and the Kindle 3, Kindle 4, and Kindle Touch also incorporate the Pearl display. Sony has also included this technology into its latest release of the Sony Reader Touch edition. This display is also used in the Nook Simple Touch, Kobo eReader Touch, Kobo Glo, Onyx Boox M90, X61S and Pocketbook Touch.
E Ink Mobius
E Ink Mobius (E-ink Flex) is the next modification of E-ink Pearl. It does not have one of the main disadvantages of the first two models of E-ink displays: substrate made of very thin glass. E-ink Vizplex and E-ink Pearl have very fragile screens which can be broken easily. Substrate of E-ink Mobius is made of flexible plastic. It can not be broken by little flexes and hits. A4 sized E ink Mobius devices are the most expensive of e-readers. These include Sony Digital Paper DPT-S1 and Pocketbook CAD Reader Flex.
E Ink Triton
E Ink Triton announced on November 9, 2010 the third generation of E Ink Vizplex displays: a color display that is easy to read in high light. The Triton is able to display 16 shades of gray, and 4096 colors. E Ink Triton is being used in commercially available products such as the Hanvon color e-reader, JetBook Color made by ectaco and PocketBook Color Lux made by PocketBook.
E Ink Carta
In January 2013, at the International CES, it was announced that the fourth generation of E Ink devices features 768 by 1024 resolution on 6-inch displays, with 212 ppi (Pixel density). It was named Carta and is used in the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 1st (2012) and 2nd generation (2013). A further revision was named Carta HD with 300 ppi and is used in the Kindle Voyage (2014), Kindle Paperwhite 3rd generation (2015), in the Deutsche Telekom Tolino Vision (2014), the Kobo eReader Aura H2O (2014), Kobo Glo HD (2015) and in the Pocketbook Touch Lux 3 (2015). and in the Cybook Muse Frontlight.
- Comparison of e-book readers
- Electronic paper
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- Interview with Russ Wilcox, E Ink co-founder, vice-president and (from 2003 to 2010) CEO. 89 minutes.