Page last updated at 00:40 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 01:40 UK

The revolution of paperless paper

By Steven Rosenberg
BBC News, Dresden


How the 'paperless paper' works

I love reading newspapers. Really I do. But whenever I read one on the train to work or on the bus, I always seem to end up sparking complete chaos.

Either the passenger sitting next to me gets it in the face with my elbow, or half the pages of my daily collapse onto the floor into an embarrassing heap which, in rush hour, is rather difficult to clear up.

But soon my problems with paper could be over.

At Plastic Logic's factory in Dresden, British engineer Dean Baker shows me a new kind of newspaper.

What's new about it? Well, for a start there's no paper - it's electronic.

The device looks just like a table mat, it's as light as a magazine.

We have paper being distributed all over the country which is consumed on that day and then discarded into the bin. This doesn't need to be the case.
Dean Baker

But onto it you can download hundreds of newspapers and - at the touch of a button - browse through them quite safely, without elbowing anyone ever again.

"It's very robust," says Mr Baker.

To prove it he whacks the screen with his fist. Not a scratch.
The machine's so tough, because everything, from the screen to the electronics inside, is made of plastic.

That's why the electronic newspaper is so light, flexible and revolutionary.

Mr Baker believes the device will help consign ordinary paper to the rubbish bin of history.

"There's a huge amount of waste," says Mr Baker.

"We have paper being distributed all over the country which is consumed on that day and then discarded into the bin. This doesn't need to be the case.

"All of that content could be transmitted electronically and stored on a single e-reader, with the same visual appeal as paper. "

Ralf Oberthuer
Ralf Oberthuer believes paper remains more user-friendly

British origins

The plastic microchips are produced in a top security "clean room" in Dresden.

The Plastic Logic factory, which opened last month, is the world's first ever commercial scale plastic electronics manufacturing plant.

It may be in Germany, but the company itself was born in Britain.

It was at Cambridge University that scientists pioneered the whole idea of replacing silicon chips with plastic ones.

A few miles down the road from the electronic newspaper factory is something a little more traditional - Dresden's printing press. Here paper is king.

The giant presses rattle and whir. They get through 60 tonnes of paper a day here, churning out 15 copies of the local paper every second.

You might think that in this old fashioned kind of place an electronic paper would be considered a dangerous competitor.

Paper cuts it

But printing manager Ralf Oberthuer believes that - even if paper isn't perfect - it's still far more user-friendly than an electronic upstart.

"The advantage is the feeling of a newspaper," Ralf says.

"And you can take it everywhere you are going - to breakfast, to the bathroom, to the toilet. Or if you go to work with you in the train, no problem.

The electronic e-reader
The electronic reader is flexible, and very robust

"And if you lose it, it's also no problem - 50 cents. But if you lose an electronic newspaper it will be expensive for you."

The electronic newspaper will only hit the high street next year.

So, for now, I'll have to continue to wreak havoc on the way to work with all that paper.

But, as Mr Oberthuer made clear, it's not all bad news with newspapers.

And, sitting on a commuter train, I suddenly realise there's another good thing you can do with an ordinary newspaper that you couldn't do with a flashy electronic one.

Leave it behind for someone else to read.

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