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Wafer-Thin Material Can Store and Play Audio Messages (May 8, 2006)

A "talking print" featuring the voice of a kabuki actor (Toppan Forms Co.)
Electronic paper and other paper with innovative functions is now coming into use. Postcards that can talk have gone on sale, and a commercial poster that also serves as an electronic display carrying news and weather reports was recently trialed in a train station. Paper technology aimed at preventing the falsification of documents is also being developed. Researchers are striving to develop products that are as thin and light as paper but perform a range of functions. Paper is finally entering the IT age through a fusion with digital technologies.

Audio paper capable of recording and playing back to audio (Toppan Forms Co.)

Sending Recorded Messages on Paper
"Audio paper," which is just 0.75 millimeters thick, is capable of "talking" thanks to the ultra-small speaker, microphone, and battery embedded within it. In the fall of 2005, the postcard-sized Talking Letter, which is made of this paper, went on sale at the Tokyu Hands chain of department stores for ¥1,260 ($10.65 at ¥118 to the dollar) per sheet and was an immediate hit. A message of up to 20 seconds can be recorded on the paper and played back around 50 times just by pushing a button. Talking Letters fit in a standard-sized envelope and can be sent anywhere in Japan with one ¥80 ($0.68) stamp.

Toppan Forms Co., which marketed the product, is currently working on other types of audio paper, such as cards that carry the picture and voice of TV stars or kabuki actors. It is also considering marketing Braille audio paper for people with visual impairments.

An electronic paper display at JR Tokyo Station (Jiji)

Electronic News and Weather Forecasts on Paper
Competition is heating up among electrical equipment manufacturers and printing companies to develop and commercialize material that can be used to make ultra-thin electronic displays. Such a product would have a range of potential uses in advertisements, books, and newspapers, since it would be as thin and malleable as paper.

One example is electronic paper in which text and image displays are generated by electrically charging a special ink sandwiched between two sheets of film. The images are visible even after the electric power is turned off, and a single charge lasts for years. In December 2005, A4-size paper of this kind was hung up at JR Tokyo Station on a trial basis. News, weather reports, and corporate advertisements were displayed on the paper, much to the surprise of passersby.

Rapid progress is also being made in developing technology to determine the authenticity of a document. Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd. has successfully developed a method that involves analyzing the unique "fingerprint" that each piece of paper possesses. The company says that such a product could put an end to the forgery of passports and other valuable documents.

Talking paper and paper featuring electronically generated images and text could soon be a common feature of modern life.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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