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Disposable Computers 77

GFD writes "EETimes has a about disposable chip/display technology that would be so cheap that they could put displays on disposable consuer items like milk cartons. "
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Disposable Computers

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  • As if society doesn't throw enough away already. More waste in the dumps. Sigh.
  • by Mister Attack ( 95347 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @09:27PM (#1635271) Journal
    The article in EEtimes had remarkably little information about how they would deal with issues like power supplies, memory, and the like. To me, this indicates that we're looking at a product that is still a few years off. Is there any more information floating around about when these disposable displays should be available? or on the details of how they work?
  • I'm sure every advertising agency in the world wants it too
  • Remember at the end, the big idea Tom Hanks comes up with is an "interactive comic book" where the kid buys some reader and then plugs in different story modules for a "choose your own adventure" type experience?

    Well, of course...ten years later this idea is still not marketable. Consider all the existing "digital book readers" out there that cost an absurd $400-$600 each, and don't really offer any savings on media due to horrible licensing and royalty rules.

    I'm excited by the idea but of course...the standard "five to ten years to market" will apply even IF they get this to work. And isn't Xerox PARC also working on some kinda of digital paper that would also be cheap enough to throwaway, or be reused by running it back through the system.

    The big question I have would be how fast something like this could refresh, and if there would be any ghosting. I remember seeing some demonstration of thin-film display technology that basically acted like a neon sign, where a single, continuous cell could be lit up by an electrical current, and then changing the flow would light up a different cell. To do words, you had to draw thin lines between charaters (sorta like underlining).

    I don't remember what this technology was called, but the makers were touting it as a great way to do cheap,lighted, animated advertising on the sides of trucks and on billboards.

    The big problem was the material could not refresh nearly fast enough to prevent the images from looking completely blurred. Just like scrolling text on early laptop screen (like GRiD or what have you)...the image had to sit for several second before you could even read it.

    Just my thoughts on the issue...

    - JoeShmoe

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
  • The thought of the characters on cereal boxes eyeballing me is disturbing... Poppinfresh is creepy enough without him giggling every time you pick up a container of cinnamon rolls up.

    Dang nabit, them spirits gone went and possessed the fruit loops again!

  • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @09:39PM (#1635275) Homepage
    Not only more junk in the landfill, but lets not forget that manufacturing computer chips also uses a lot of toxic chemicals. Don't think I'm anti upgrade, but I think the industry should be more responsible than to attempt to insert an IC into everything in sight. Will milk in a computerized carton taste better? Will it be healthier? Will it even cost less?
  • These things sound cool... I wonderif these will ever become so popular that we're all walkin around with these like they do on Star Trek, instead of carryin arond reems of paper at a time.
  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @09:44PM (#1635277) Journal
    A good invention makes you first ask "how?"

    A bad invention makes you first as "why???"

    As for this one, do we really want a worse
    garbage problem for the sake of animated cereal boxes?
  • Power supplies? Easy. Start by making digital lemon juice bottles. Potato packaging could also work.
  • Not bad, but when do we get milk that passes itself?
    /\ X | O M
  • I can see alot that can be done with this...depending on how it can be powered. Think of contact lenses that hook into your wearable PC, or T-Shirts that constantly change patterns (especially popular with the ravers). You could replace the window tinting on you car so that it has commercials advocating Linux. Doorway
  • by Ater ( 87170 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @10:04PM (#1635284)
    Sure I have to admit that the idea is impressive, but what would be accomplished by using such technoloigcal resources to place a scrolling ad on a box? Not only is this an utter waste of technology, but it also creates even more problems regarding pollution and waste. It might save some paper, but at least you can gather up paper and recycle it. I doubt that you can the same with silicon, and the article didn't even bother to explore the possible negative ecological ramifications that these disposable chips could have. I'm not trying to be some tree-hugger, but we certainally don't need to be wasting resources and creating potential polluting problems for the sake of having some flashy milk carton ads. Besides, if current newspaper publishing and reading is too much of hassle, why not utilize the internet as means of distribution as so many other sites are currently doing? That would be a lot more convenient than disposable chip newspapers.

    It's a nice little plan and I applaud the researchers, but I feel it would be much nicer if they focused their talents toward something else more usefull and less potentially damaging. Hell the article spent less than one full paragraph listing real life applications for the technology, and the few that were mentioned are not so incredibly urgent or revolutionary that disposable processors will become the standard.

    Considering the possible mass amounts of waste these dispoasble chips could create, the minimal convenience that stands to be gained is nothing. Nice job guys, but find something better to do.
  • That sounds like the borg! Making silicon and organics work together.

    Anyway, the notion of disposable screens sounds wasteful to me. Don't we already generate too much trash? Rather than see cheap screens go to waste (literally) on the sides of milk cartons, I'd like to see cheap screens be used for things like wallpaper. Should Bill Gates be the only one who can change his wallpaper by running 'xv -root -random -wait 900 *.png' on his Linux box? NO! I'd love to have a cheap wall hanging display too, on every wall of my house. Outside too.

    Instead, we all know what will happen. These little screens will be used like miniature billboards, and soon they will be everywhere, with little sealed chips running a fixed and unchangeable program. They will be about as useful to a geek as an AOL CD-ROM. The best we can hope for is for these cheap little advertizing screens to be given out for free, and in such a way that we can link them together into a much larger screen. That would be more like the AOL floppy disk where you could erase it and use it for your own programs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, we're heading towards the Brave New World where your Supermarket Savings Card talks to your credit card database and says "Ooh, he spends money on mountain climbing", and uploads a bunch of ads to your milkcarton. I really don't want every single atom of matter in this universe to be running a fucking blipvert. Please.
  • I-thought-they-were-called-macintosh dept.

    Hrm...this is really asking to provoke a platform war. I thought we were trying to DIScourage this kind of thing.

    Tsk tsk Rob.

    (I'm [among other OSes] a mac user, and I thought it was mildly amusing, but were it a comment someone made, I would have moderated it down for being flamebait)
  • I think the article was more to point out that they figured something out, have nfc why it works, and are aiming to change that. I don't think their point was to say "Hey look, we've got these cool screens. Anyone want one?"
  • I can imagine an ad imprinted on just aout everything. Think about how unrelaxing things will be in 15 years when everything has full color animations scrolling all over it! Ugh. Reminds me of the attention-sapping digital homes pictured in Neal Stephenson's 'The Diamond Age', where there are no more conversations, just someone saying a random comment while everyone else zones out to the million colorful distractions.
  • I saw this thing in newsweek where they were talking about billboards that had a small keyboard at the bottom and you just designed what you wanted and it would show up. This kind of thing could be efficint IF IT WAS USED MRE THAN ONCE. If it was just on a cereal box or a milk carton, or something else that you would just throw away, that would be pretty stupid because youre throwing out silicon. Another good use would be like the Newspad from 2001. Its just a palm pilot type thing the size of a sheet of paper and its refreshed every few minutes to get only the most recent news.
  • "I'd like a nice, thick blue pile for the carpet and a systolic array for the drapes."

    "Yes sir -- how many square yards of array would you like?"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    so now i can wipe my ass with this pathetic news site...
  • Hehe, maybe it's just me, but doesn't the idea of Bill Gates using Linux to run his home automation system seem just a little blasphemous? Sure, Bill uses Linux. Riiiiiiight....
  • If displays become that cheap, wouldn't it be possible to stick a whole bunch of post-it note displays to your house and show on each display an image of the background behind the house, thus creating a sort of makeshift cloaking device? It would be really handy for when the Jehova's witnesses come around. But seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if the military quickly snapped up the technology and used it for cameoflage, sort of like that creature in "Predator"
  • Ah yes, advertising, otherwise known as mind pollution.

    I'm sure drivers will appreciate lots of moving ads on the side of the road to grab their vision. Especially the ones with half-naked people. Well, what are a few more accidents in the cause of money?

    The grocery store should be quite psychedelic with every package and advertisment a gaudy moving display evolved to catch your eye in a ruthless ecology of attention. Too bad for people with epilepsy.

    Hey, we can't have people buying products because they're good or cheap, no, they have to buy them because of the nifty packaging or subliminal associations! Otherwise some serious fatcats might lose some money.

    The technology is wonderful, and I'm sure there will be legitimate uses, but to me, this really sounds like a royal PITA. Anyone remember blink tags?
  • Or, a pair of eyeglasses that change tint color, or perhaps cycle continously.


  • So, can I run Linux on my milk carton? And can I connect my milk carton to the Internet?

    I'm thinking it would be nice to network a bunch of milk cartons together, perhaps with a cereal box for additional storage, in order to build a web server for my business. But the whole thing won't work unless someone has a Carton Linux distro...
  • Readers of Ayn Rand will know what I'm talking about.

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised that an overworked, underpaid, and probably not all that bright reporter merely parrots things he/she is told.

    "This cheap technology could be built into consumer items such as milk cartons that scroll through pictures of missing children, or one-sheet newspapers with a button to toggle through the pages."

    This is silly. This ranks right up there with Div-X and Interactive TV. Sometimes you can look at an idea and say "DUMB. SHEER DUMBNESS" without being required to back up your opinion with analysis and evidence.

    However this IS a COOL TECHNOLOGY, with MAJOR potential. In my humble opinion. ^_^

    The display is always an integral part of the man-machine interface. Tools like the PalmPilot, your cellular phone, your wristwatch, your car's dashboard, these can potentiall benefit from a technology like this. Reduced cost, reduced weight, visible in daylight, and other advantages seem possible with this technology.

    "Organic and inorganic chemistries are so dissimilar that college courses almost always separate them into two tracks."

    You know, I've always thought the rigid separation of education into discrete hegemonies "Economics" "Math" "Physics" "Basketweaving" destroys a lot of good interdisciplinary idea-generating potential. Other schools may be different, but where I went to school they paid lots of lip service to the concept of interdisciplinary programs but in practice it was tough and fraught with rules/policy barriers.

    "For engineers it is enough that applications work, but Clancy's team plans to explain why."

    I found that kind of a revealing comment, and funny for some reason. ^_^

    " 'The theories say it should not work, so we are going to take a close look to find out what is really happening,' said Thompson."

    Hehe this reminds me of a quote I once heard. "Most major discoveries are not preceded by a cry of 'Eureka!' -- rather, they are typically preceded by a 'That's funny ...'"

  • I am probably not the first to come up with this idea, but clothing with displays on it could be rather nifty. Think of how well this could work out. You have a bunch of different T-shirts of different colors and you could load logos, bands, or whatever your druthers. Design your own clothing.

    I am sure this wouldn't be too hard. You have a small package that consists of a small recharable battery, a DAC, and an ethernet port and you put it in your pocket, if not on your belt. A very flexable and small ribboncable hits the display on the shirt and there you have it. Go up a notch and have the device be a hand held unit that has wireless internet. Faster bandwidth over wireless connections ALREADY has streaming video over it. Load a server full of video clips or things of the sort and transmit them wirelessly to your shirt. Even something as generic as the old eye candy/fractal generators would make good threads (when touring Phish).

  • Please, someone, put the Cathode Ray Tube out of its misery. They're bulky, heavy, they go wrong all the time and they an all-round pain in the bum.

    Every few months for the last five years we've read stories about how some smashing new technology is going to produce new flatpanel-type displays that may be larger or brighter than before, but always cheaper.

    But for now all we've got is still-damned-pricey TFTs. How much longer do I have to wait? 'Cos I ain't never buying me another CRT. So there.

    This comment was brought to you by And Clover.
  • Gee, is nothing useful unless it is for advertising these days?

    Things I want to use it for after thinking for 30 seconds (if it is really that cheap...)

    A big (IMAX size) TV screen.

    Cover all the walls in my house with it and somehow hook up a quake-type engine. VR here we come!

    Fold out screens for handheld PCs

    Road warning signs (on the road itself)

    I liked that idea about adaptive camoflage, too.

    Lets start a VC fund, buy these guys out, and really make some money!

  • An obvious offshoot of this will be lots more crappier greeting cards, cereal boxes, toys, etc, etc. Remember when cards that played crappy tunes where really cool. Now a toy isn't serious unless its got some 8-bit low rate sampled sounds in it. And those damn cards are just plain annoying now. What will be the retail offshoot of this one?? Cards that play a slide-show of customised pics. Or a small AVI/MOV? Now that sounds pretty cool actually..
  • It is a bit of a waste, What they should do is make the mini comupters usable/hackable so most nerds wont want to throw them away. Maybe they could make them stackable. "Collect 200 box tops and you can build your own beowulf cluster!"

  • I'm not sure that this would work, mainly because of the perspective.

    If you really wanted to cloak an object the image that you'd want projected on it would have to be the view-behind-the-object from the viewpoint of the observer.. And you can't have a camera where the viewer is...

    (Of course even if you could you'd be screwed if two people stood in different places and both looked at the object - you'd want the object to be covered in two different types of background.)


  • Wasnt MIT media lab (or someone) working on some dyes that could be turned on and off at different levels of red, green, and blue about a year ago?? Couldnt some of those dyes (assuming you get more than 2^2=4 variations in hue for each one produce some sort of useful display?? laying disposable power connections is no problem, nor is power... the issue is how to deliver the images frame by frame....
  • Teleportation is the only thing that i want out of star trek... that and the women.. ;)
  • I once read a news story about a guy in some sunny place (Hawaii? California?) who did something similar with his house.

    He covered the entire front of his beachhouse with flat-screen monitors hooked up to video feeds from the back of his house (don't you wish you had THAT kind of money!). So there was this really neat image of him standing in front of a blue-sky house (the view over the ocean behind the house was nice and sunny and clear). It sure didn't look cloaked but it was pretty phat anyway.

    My question is, can I play DOOM on his house? Hell, can I play Super Mario on his house?


  • Yup, real neat:

    This lemmon juice has gone stale 42 days ago.
  • You know, here on earth we have something called humor. You should try it someday.
  • I agree with you totally. We throw away so many things that could be recycled and put to good use. The technology behind throw-away chips could bring us closer to other more influential technology (other than bringing us closer to needing more room in landfills for computer chips). :) Skott
  • How about NEVER having to buy a CRT again (anyone here care to estimate the environmental damage cause by melting this much glass and coating it with phosphors as compared to making these disposable displays?)

    I would like a display as big as my desk (with a resolution of 1Megx1Meg). The software should have handwriting recognition. Then I could look at lots of documents at once which I could move and write on the way I find most natural (with a pen).

    Since amorphous silicon is also used in solar cells, could the back of a PDA also be a power supply? Charges a small battery and runs the unit when in bright light; the unit runs off the battery when in the dark.

    Make the display wireless, with my server sitting in a closet. I can then read and work while laid out on the couch. This is possible now, but is prohibited by price. With such a cheap technology for the display, money can be spent on other parts of the unit.

  • "...damn NT! All my walls are BLUE again. I HATE blue! Ralph, go to the server room in the cellar, and reset the things AGAIN"
  • Capitalists love things that are disopsable. Remember the advent of disposable razors? It only took a very short period of time before people started cutting their feet on them as the washed up on the beaches and shores. Disposable means more profit potential for those people making chips. If a computer chip is as inexpensive to make as a potato chip, they can still charge you more for something that will eventually fall apart. I've been running dos on an an old AT machine in my basement for years. It still works like a charm. Ah, heck, we're all disposable computers anyway, right? :)
  • it wouldn't work due to perspective. You would need something similar to a hologram, where different angles give different images. And then comes the pain in getting the image data from the other side of you...

    Not saying it wouldn't kick butt though ;-)
  • Hi there,

    A similar idea made by Xerox has been published in Scientific American in 1998.

    Xerox did an actual implementation of a black and white paper thin display. The technologie use tiny plastic balls that are activated by electric current. The nice thing about this is that when the power goes off, the display stay in the state is was; it does not fade-out.

    They claim they can achieve a 220 dot per inch resolution with a size of up to one foot square.

    Take a look at this technology here [].

  • Most Intel machines are already disposable eg. the functional life is greater than the economic life of the asset. Problem is they cost too much to begin with. All this article says is that the ecnomic life and the functional life are equal and they are zero or nearly zero. Since FASB rules depreciate most PC's over 3 years and the price today of what you bought 3 years ago reaches zero much faster than the FASB accounting rules you in effect have a disposable asset. Which is why for most organizations it makes sense to throw things out instead up upgrading.

    Are the folks complaining about this also complaining about throwing away musical birthday cards and cheap digital watches because throwing the units away is somehow a sinful waste of good computing power?
  • I agree, as I am currently reading that very book.

    Here's a slashdot review [] of it if you like

  • Well gee, if you're gonna have cameras everywhere [], then you've gotta have something to display their pictures on...

    Imagine a camera and a display on each cereal box: the cartoon mascot could interact with the image of the shopper. Would work great on kids.

    How about disposable dataspecs: wearable display terminals, stereo-optic of course, so cheap that you wouldn't have to worry about sitting on them... and you know you will.

  • If I can have the holodeck, I'll have the holodeck AND the women. And some other women besides.
  • I can't wait for the day when every cheap paperback comes with a full literary concordance embedded in the back cover. Wow. Can you imagine? How cool is that!? You read it here first. "There's nothing too rum to be true." --Dean Corde, in Saul Bellow's _The Dean's December_
  • The obvious place this would be used is large wall screens for home use(if it is high enough quality).

    Most probably there will be brands of milk or cereal that do not use throw away silicon. There is nearly always another option to buying throw-away stuff. It is not always the easiest route though. I look forward to having a whole room covered with screens, but I won't buy those milk cartons.

    I think a better option, if I may borrow from Gibson, is a pair of Virtual Light glasses that project information onto real life surfaces. Then you only have to make one piece of silicon, the glasses themselves. And when you take off the glasses, reality. Maybe we could ban all non cyberspace adds to boot!

  • Congratulations! You've just discovered the phenomenon known as "media bias". Consider yourself lucky to have encountered it in such an innocuous form.
  • Everyone is making a stink about how bad it is to make disposable electronics (landfills, bad chemicals, etc.). Sure I agree that this is bad stuff. But read the article ignoring the disposable part of it. After all, you don't *have* to throw it out.

    It's describing very thin, flexible substrates. If it becomes reality, you can bring your computer to bed and read it like a newspaper. That's the cool aspect of this technology. And if it's cheap, then great! The cheaper the hardware gets, the more important free software becomes.

    Leave it to marketers to read "inexpensive" as "disposable" instead of "practical" and "accessible to the masses"
  • i have considered the idea of a screen that you coyld print data to and write on. Like print out your source code and write on it to fix bugs (not handwriting recognition- the user makes the changes mannually to the file) and stuff. this would be cool if it could become cheap enough (do they already have these?) anyway, im switching brands if anyone trys to advritize on MY milk carton. i know this is off topic but, everyone is talking about the additional garbage. im shure health food stores do this but why dont we get a glass milk carton and refill it (charge like $5 a jar so they wont lose it)

    Did you mean 'hacker' or 'cracker'?
    Do you know the diffrence? I don't think you do.

  • How about environmentalism of a different sort?

    I'd heard somewhere what a joke the EPA Green PC thing was because a computer uses up something like 1/1000th of the energy it took to manufacture itin the first place.

    In stead of just focusing on the landfull stuffing value of this idea we need to look at how much fossil fuel will get burned to enable us to have a billion milk cartons with mooing cows on the front.

  • That kind of thinking can be taken to an extreme:

    In Naperville Illinois, exists the one and only Red Roof Inn in the entire world without a Red Roof. This is because it sits alongside the dreaded constipated Route 59, and the town elders decided that a Red Roof was too distracting to drivers, and slowed traffic down too much.

    If only they were of the same mind before they gave carte blanc to all the real-estate developers who turned every last square inch of farmland out there into subdivisions. Yuk.

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • Shit yeah, wallpaper in Bay-Area apartment buildings. Unless you are CEO, you can't afford rent - unless, of course, you submit to the wallpaper in your house.

    The future's so bright, I gotta wear a guillotine.

    But then again, linking them together for a much larger screen - eh? are we talking BEOWULF clusters here? On /.?

    I tell ya, all I want is a good-sized decent flat display I can afford. Is it too much to ask?

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • What about a wireless connection to the FBI which would allow them to download and display more than one missing child per milk carton?
  • IRON ON! sheees...keep it simple
  • fire up the jargon file...I think we've got one
  • Well, the problem wouldn't be so bad if computing devices were made 90-100% recyclable to begin with. *That* is where research should be headed. Making computers that are easy with which to melt down, centrifuge, and separate their componenents (plastics, metals, ceramics). Of course, all of this bespeaks a growing need to instil in everyone a necessity to recycle more. *Not* just computing devices, but *everything*. For what it's worth, as long as these ubiquitous displays are used for purposes other than high-tech adverts, I laud the possibilities of cheap display technology.
  • mean looking at slashdot on a palm pilot, and hitting reload every once and a while... doesn't sound that much like a new idea to me.
  • Not true for all Macs. Just the integrated ones that are hard to upgrade, ie iMacs. I got a Mac SE and Mac IIcx in my basement gathering dust, with no hope of an upgrade! Anyone got a G3/G4 upgrade for these babies? :)

    But then the same could be said of the eOne, or Packard Bell, or other Integrated PC Systems. Once you start putting everything on the motherboard, the computer gets closer to being a disposible one. Once something fries, you either get a new (read: expensive with the video, audio, etc. built in) motherboard or get a new machine!
    Remember the Microchannel PS/2 series from IBM? Now there where disposible systems! :)
  • Couldnt some of those dyes (assuming you get more than 2^2=4 variations in hue for each one produce some sort of useful display??

    If you can make them pretty small, 1 bit pixel depth if perfectly adequate, since you can dither. That's how colour inkjet printers work. 1200x1200 dpi is pretty !#%! high quality, and 1800x1800 is, in my experience, sufficient for the unaided eye to be fooled into thinking it's continuous tone, from up close. You could even argue that this kind of solution is BETTER than lower resolution true continuous tone, as you can represent MUCH finer details.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972