Palo Alto (CA) - Xerox’s research lab is one of the big technology hot spots around the world, and it recently highlighted some of the innovations it is working on to pave the way to the future.
The high-tech firm has in its laboratory new uses for solar power, an environmentally-friendly version of plastic, erasable paper and a new way to detect abnormal cells in humans.
Xerox showed off the new technologies coming out of its Palo Alto Research Centre (Parc), the main innovation arm for the company.
"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," said Parc CTO Sophie Vandebroek in a BBC interview.
One of the most unique technologies revealed is called "reusable paper." Close to heart with Xerox’s main unit, paper and printing, anything printed on the chemical-coated paper disappears after 24 hours. Think of invisible ink on paper, but the other way around. Instead of ink, though, light is used to print on the reusable paper.
Xerox pointed to internal research it has that suggests around 40% of printed documents are only really looked at once. It also projects that nearly 20 trillion pieces of paper will be used every year by 2018. "The problem is getting a lot worse and it’s simply because people love paper," said researcher Eric Shrader.
Another breakthrough it has deals with detecting rare cells in humans, specifically pregnant women. Right now it is standard for women to receive a specific test called amniocentesis, which looks for any abnormalities in the child. However, for around 1500 women every year this test causes problems leading to a miscarriage.
Xerox Parc, working with Scripps Research Institute scientists, have found a new way to test for genetic abnormalities by a more simple blood test.
Two other new technologies it unveiled were "green" plastic and new plans for solar panels. Right now, plastic is made largely from oil, but Xerox has found a way to make the same kind of material with a 30% plant composition, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 15%. Additionally, the company has been actively working on reducing the size of solar panels and making them more ergonomical. This makes them more power efficient, cheaper to manufacture, and more feasible for mass-use applications.
These are all emerging technologies, so it will be several years before any of them end up in our homes.