The e-reader market took the company E-Ink and its low-power, easy-on-the-eyes digital paper technology mainstream. But no one says E-Ink is perfect; the displays, to date, don’t do flexibility or full color well. And they aren’t cheap enough to move into budget-conscious applications, like the long-dreamed of grocery store shelf tags that could be updated remotely to display new prices.
E-Ink and its brethren continue to advance down their technology development paths. But a startup company based in Saratoga, Calif., says they’re heading in the wrong direction.
The folks at Zikon have figured out a way to make electronic ink out of nanoparticles that don’t need to be packaged in microcapsules to work. Encapsulation, they say, is one of the big reasons today’s electronic ink-based displays are expensive to produce. And Zikon’s unencapsulated particles are so tiny that instead needing a liquid medium in which to float, they can move around in a porous material, kind of like, well, paper.
That means that E-ink can create a high contrast display by using a white background. And that the manufacturing process is similar to printing, a cheap and well-established method.
Zikon says this new form of electronic display may have applications beyond shelf labeling and flexible reading materials, like color-changing fake fingernails. Really. Zikon’s CEO Mateusz Bryning tells me about the technology—and the fingernail application, in the video below, recorded at Launch: Silicon Valley, an annual conference sponsored by the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs, held Tuesday, June 8, in Mountain View, Calif. Zikon was one of about two dozen companies selected from 400 applications to present its ideas to the venture capital community at the conference.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.