Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Thursday, 1 May 2008 10:48 UK

Xerox plans the future of today

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Xerox, AP
Xerox's Parc research lab is a shrine to innovation
A rare glimpse of the future has been given by Xerox at its famed Palo Alto Research Centre (Xerox Parc).

On show were a handful of innovations including re-usable paper, environmentally friendly plastic, solar power, water filtering and a cell detection method that could help save lives.

Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer at Parc, told BBC News: "I think it is extremely critical to continuously come up with innovative ideas and work with your partners to turn them into innovations that the customers of the world can benefit from.

"If you stand still you become obsolete."

Xerox along with commercial partners, universities and the government spends $1.5bn (754m) on research and development at Parc and other research centres around the world.

Ms Vandebroek said this was just the tip of the iceberg and that she found it hard to choose just one project as a favourite to show journalists.

"It's like picking between your children," she said.

"We picked 10 out of many more projects that are happening in the world today. The ones we have chosen today are among the newest, that are important to our customers and critical to the future of Xerox and they really enable a sustainable world. So that is really what Xerox and Parc is all about."

Parc is something of a shrine to innovation. Over the years it has given us ethernet, laser printing and pioneered the idea of ubiquitous computing. Today Xerox is hoping some of these innovations will have just as great an impact on our world and its bank balance.

RARE CELL DETECTION

Rare cell detector, BBC
Laser light is helping boost the chances of spotting cancerous cells
In America 1500 women every year miscarry after undergoing amniocentesis - a test that tries to spot genetic abnormalities in a child while still in the womb.

In the next two to four years scientists at Parc, along with colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute, believe they could replace amniocentesis with a simple blood test given when a foetus is between 8 to 12 weeks old.

Dr Richard Bruce said the ability to locate rare blood cells was done by combining laser techniques with a bundle of optical fibres that can accurately find circulating tumour cells and examine them with a high resolution digital microscope.

Their Fiber Array Scanning Technology is 1,000 times faster than digital microscopy, the current gold standard.

Dr Bruce labels blood with tiny markers and runs a laser over them to give off a fluorescent light. The different colours given off reveal what types of cancer is lurking in the blood.

"This has the potential to be ground breaking and more importantly save lives."

Dr Bruce has also been using the technique to detect breast and lung cancer.

ERASABLE PAPER

Erasable paper, BBC
Light is used to print on Xerox's erasable paper
Although Xerox is a company largely built around printing and copying, some of its researchers are looking at ways to help people use less paper.

Researchers Paul Smith and Eric Shrader had green thoughts in mind when they came up with the idea of paper that erases itself completely after 24 hours.

Xerox research suggests that upwards of 40% of printed documents are used only once.

It's estimated that 15.2 trillion pages of paper are printed worldwide and Xerox predicts the figure will grow by 30% in the next 10 years.

Said Mr Shrader: "The problem is getting a lot worse and its simply because people love paper."

Erasable paper is coated with photosensitive chemicals that turn dark when hit with a UV light.

The printer that goes hand in hand with it does not use toner or ink - instead light prints the images.

Mr Shrader said that after 24 hours whatever was printed on the paper disappears. the paper can be reused up to 100 times.

PANEL PLANS

Nitin Parekh, BBC
Technology from printers is being used to produce the small panels
Xerox is also working on another green project in partnership with Californian firm SolFocus to make solar panels smaller in size thanks to optics technology from laser printers.

Parc scientist Nitin Parekh said: "The individual concentrators here have been shrunk down and the whole thing has been moulded out of glass."

He said that although the solar panels were much smaller they converted significantly more sunlight into electricity. They are also more durable, safer to operate and cheaper to manufacture.

SPIRAL CLEANING

Water filtration, BBC
Using a spiral filter could cut the costs of water treatment
Xerox has drawn on technology it developed to move tiny particles of copy toner around for use in its spiral water filter.

Instead of transferring flush water through a series of tanks where the detritus slowly settles out, the device sends it through a spiral channel.

Centrifugal force moves the heavier particles to the outside wall of the channel while clean water hugs the inside. A fork at the end of the tube splits it into clean and dirty streams.

By the end of the process, said Mr Parekh said: "There is a small stream of water with the particles in it and 90 per cent of the water is clean."

While this filter can clean out bacteria and other gunk it does not eradicate viruses.

The main beneficiary of this technology could be water treatment facilities that can reduce the amount of land they need because the process does away with several steps in conventional water filtering. Mr Parekh said other benefits included a reduction in chemical costs and usage by 50% as well as lower energy requirements.

GREENER PLASTIC

Michiaki Yasuno, BBC
Fuji Xerox uses biomass material in parts of their machines
Plastic is one of the great inventions of the 20th century but getting rid of it is a huge environmental headache.

Fuji Xerox thinks it has the answer with a biomass plastic with more than 30% of which is made from plant material. This corn based product means carbon dioxide emissions almost 16% lower compared to oil based plastic.

At the moment though it is three times more expensive than oil based plastic. But, said Michiaki Yasuno, Xerox has been using it in some of its products since November 2007.

"The final goal," he said "is to have everything made from biomass plastic with increased production reducing costs."

3D PRINT PREVIEW

This development is aimed at making life easier for those who have to print large numbers of reports or other documents.

Rob Rolleston's vision is to take the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) aspects of word processors to give people a better sense of what a printed page will look like.

The software he has developed produces a 3D view of a document so it can be viewed before being printed or ordered. It can be looked at from all angles with various binders, colours, thickness of paper and sizes.

The software also lets authors create and personalise everything from origami type invites to gift boxes and cards.

Mr Rolleston sees it as being a boon for people who do a lot of self publishing.




SEE ALSO
Inventions that never made it
03 Feb 06 |  Click
The changing nature of innovation
20 Apr 05 |  Technology
DNA computing
13 Nov 07 |  Technology
Cleaning up in 'fab world'
15 Nov 07 |  Technology

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