Lucent and E Ink are preparing to take prototypes of electronic ink displays, a technology that could be used in a variety of low-cost electronic information appliances, to two industry gatherings next week, an official of E Ink said Monday. Lucent and E Ink officials announced their collaboration on the product last year and now plan to take two prototypes to the Seventh International Display Workshop 2000 in Kobe, Japan, and the 2000 MRS (Materials Research Society) Fall Meeting in Boston, said Paul Drzaic, director of technology for E Ink. They will be shown behind the scenes at the Kobe conference, but will be part of a Lucent presentation in Boston. The electronic ink display prototypes are flexible sheets with an area measuring approximately 13-x-13 cm in the center that is covered with plastic transistors developed by Lucent's Bell Labs. The plastic transistors have the same properties as conventional silicon chips - wires, insulators and semiconductors - but are flexible and can be stamped onto the sheet in a process similar to printing. The sheet is then laminated to another sheet that has been coated with E Ink's electronic ink, which is made from millions of tiny microcapsules filled with dark dye and light pigment that change hue to form images when charged by the electric field created by the plastic transistors. The 13-x-13 cm area on the display prototype contains 256 square pixels, each about 8.5-x-8.5 mm. Each pixel has one transistor behind it on the electronic sheet that determines whether the pixel gets "turned on" to create a light or a dark form in the image, Drzaic said. The technology is at a very early stage - commercial displays incorporating printed plastic transistors are still five years away - and a major question for researchers is how the plastic transistors will behave. "No one knows how stable they are or how long they are going to last," Drzaic said. Reducing the number of pixels to create sharper, less crude images is another issue, but Drzaic said that is an engineering problem that can be solved. One advantage of the technology is that E Ink's electronic ink is "bistable," meaning that once the ink receives a charge it stays put, which reduces the amount of power needed to hold the image in place. The prototype draws only one-tenth to one-thousandth the power of an LCD (liquid crystal display) of an equivalent size, its makers say. Another advantage is the display prototypes' thickness and weight, which is one-quarter that of a standard LCD panel. It can display both text and simple graphics while being flexed. The display prototypes could evolve into flexible displays that could be updated with the latest edition of a newspaper, periodical or book through a link to the Internet. The same technology also could be used in large graphical displays hung in sports arenas and billboards.