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E Ink’s digital blackboard won’t kick up chalk dust

E Ink’s new writing technology enables any surface to become a digital blackboard of sorts.
E Ink’s new writing technology enables any surface to become a digital blackboard of sorts. (E Ink)

E Ink, the Billerica company that makes the paper-like digital screens used on most of the world’s electronic book readers, has come up with a new variation on its flagship technology — a digital writing surface that looks and works like a blackboard, only without the chalk dust.

E Ink is scheduled to unveil its new JustWrite technology Friday at a conference in Tokyo. There’s nothing new about using touchscreen devices for handwriting. There are even a few such devices using E Ink screens. But JustWrite doesn’t need to be mounted on top of a transistor array and doesn’t use a backlight; the writing surface is flexible and wafer-thin.

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JustWrite can be glued to a wall or tabletop. Its jet-black surface looks much like a traditional blackboard, and handwritten words have the same chalky appearance. There’s no need for an old-school felt eraser — a jolt of electricity wipes the surface clean in about a second. And like other E Ink products, JustWrite doesn’t need a constant source of power to keep the image on screen. A note written on the digital blackboard will stay put for months or years.

At E Ink headquarters, chief innovation officer Michael McCreary and chief strategy officer Paul Apen showed off a sheet of JustWrite several feet long, as well as a typical public school desk with a surface coated in JustWrite. Students could write on the desktop as if it were a blackboard, then erase their scrawls at the touch of a button.

But the desk is just a prototype. For now, Apen said, E Ink is talking with companies interested in bringing JustWrite products to market. “It’s not a commercial product yet,” Apen said, “but it will be very soon.”

E Ink plans to make its JustWrite displays at the company’s factory in South Hadley, which also produces e-book screens for the Amazon Kindle and similar devices.

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The same may also apply to E Ink’s long-awaited launch of Advanced Color ePaper, a full-color version of the company’s black-and-white displays. In 2016, E Ink first demonstrated a color version. The company plans to begin selling the screens in the first quarter of 2019, mainly for use in digital signs. “We’re only months from having things in the field,” McCreary said.

Color E Ink displays aren’t as bright as the glowing LCD signs that are now familiar in subway stations or on downtown streets. But neither do they need a constant flow of electric power. Once an image appears, it will remain until a new image is electrically written onto the screen. This means that E Ink billboards could rely on batteries or solar power to display new images, which could be transmitted to the screen through Wi-Fi or a cellular data network.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.