Tech vs. Trees: High-tech paper folds into USB drive, special ink allows office printer to create circuit boards, mug's e-paper photo display powered by hot coffee

LOS ANGELES , May 1, 2014 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word:

Trees: High-tech paper folds into USB drive for smart business cards, direct mail

From QR codes to augmented reality, the marriage of tech and trees has taken different forms in marketing, and two U.S. companies have collaborated to offer one more option to the mix—a high-tech paper that can be folded into a USB flash drive. California-based Cypress Semiconductor has teamed up with Washington-based intelliPaper LLC to produce an intelligent paper that’s made of plain paper embedded with a silicon chip and works like a regular thumb drive, according to an intelliPaper video. The paper can be torn off the print marketing material, folded and inserted into a USB port to access information and files programmed into the chip. The innovation can be used for several end uses, such as smart business cards that digitally contain contact information or product brochures that contain links and digital content.

Trees: Typical inkjet printers can create circuit boards for basic electronics

The typical office inkjet printer might look like a one-trick pony next to today’s 3-D printers, but Microsoft Research scientists may be bringing new life to the office staple. With a US$500 bottle of special silver nanoparticle ink and photo paper, scientists have developed a way for the printer to create circuit boards that could be used in basic electronics, Computerworld reported April 28. After injecting the special ink into the cartridge, users could design a circuit on the computer, print out a circuit board using photo paper, and then stick circuits onto the board. There are currently no plans to commercialize the project.

Tech: Mug’s e-paper display powered by hot coffee

While bleary-eyed workers will swear that coffee powers them through the day, a Finnish company is using hot coffee as a literal energy source to power the e-paper display of an innovative mug, Digital Trends reported April 25. Finnish coffee roaster Paulig’s Muki mug includes an e-paper built on one side, which could display digital photos, cartoons and quotes that users upload with their smartphone. However, the image appears only as long as the coffee is hot; meanwhile, you can consult your smartphone to tell you the temperature of the coffee inside the Muki mug. Currently, the mug is being beta tested and could be available for sale in 2015 in Finland.

Trees: Souvenir dung paper aims to raise awareness about endangered elephants

Indonesia’s Taman Safari park is offering tourists the chance to take a piece of the experience with them—in the form of paper made from the dung of the park’s Sumatran elephants, according to a Reuters video on April 29. Called the Safari Poo Paper, the keepsake is being sold in the park’s souvenir shop and is made from the 2.5 tons of dung produced by the elephants per day. Some of the dung is used for compost, but the remainder is ideal for conversion into paper because of the animal’s inefficient digestive system that makes the dung so fibrous. About 100 kg (220 lbs) of dung can be used to make 250 sheets of paper, which is suitable for books, envelopes and photo frames. The park’s chief of landscaping said he hopes the unique souvenir item will raise awareness for the endangered elephants, which face poaching and habitat destruction.

Tech: Sony’s digital paper tries out for role in Hollywood

Initially targeting the legal world, Sony’s new 13.3-inch Digital Paper is now vying for a role in Hollywood with a pilot program aimed at streamlining new hire and crew on-boarding processes for film and TV studios, according to an April 22 company release. The pilot will be conducted with Ease Entertainment, a payroll and accounting company serving Hollywood studios, and will represent a step toward adopting new technologies for production management and corporate oversight. “Sets have traditionally been buried in paper, from scripts, call sheets, production notes and more,” said Glenn Gainor, president of production for Sony Pictures Entertainment division Screen Gems. Gainor is among those testing the Sony device, priced at US$1,100, and he’s given the device a glowing review—“I can’t imagine myself without it.” 

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