The cereal aisle at your local supermarket may soon resemble the Las
Vegas strip. Electronics maker Siemens is readying a paper-thin
electronic-display technology so cheap it could replace conventional
labels on disposable packaging, from milk cartons to boxes of Cheerios.

<>In less than two years, Siemens says, the technology could transform
consumer-goods packaging from the fixed, ink-printed images of today to
a digital medium of flashing graphics and text that displays prices,
special offers or alluring photos, all blinking on miniature flat

"When kids see flashing pictures on cereal boxes we don’t expect
them to just ask for the product, but to say, ‘I want it,’" said Axel
Gerlt, an engineer at Siemens tasked with helping packaging companies
implement the technology.

Siemens’ paper-thin display — composed of a polymer-based
photochromic material — is capable of displaying digital text and
images when prodded by an electrochemical reaction powered by a
low-voltage charge. When the electric charge is no longer applied, the
chemical reaction is reversed, and the electronic ink is no longer
visible — which is how a flashing effect is created. The power source
is based on commercially available, ultra-thin batteries. Electronic
memory strips store the images.

The company provided Wired News with a sample display during an
exclusive interview in Nuremberg, Germany, last month. The display
resembles a calculator screen, except the monitor is attached to a
flexible, plastic-coated card. Pressing a button on the card causes
monochromatic digital text to light up; when the button is released,
the text vanishes.

Miniature displays in color could appear on consumer-goods
packaging, including medicine vials, in 2007, with a resolution of 80
dpi, Gerlt said. Three or more images could flash consecutively,
creating a crude animation effect or cycling through multiple messages.
By 2008, the resolution could double, said Gerlt.

However, Siemens’ innovation is not about to usher in the dawn of
miniature and pliable video screens. The chemical reaction that must
occur from the time an electric charge is applied until the picture is
rendered is too slow for the instantaneity of video images that change
in milliseconds. "Video could happen, but that is not what this
technology is about for now," Gerlt said.

By Bruce Gain

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