A crawling computer that can intelligently turn itself into a snake or a spider, and electronic paper that can be reused over and over again, were some of the innovations that Xerox showed off to Comdex attendees this week.
During his keynote session, Rick Thoman, the copier giant's chief executive reminisced about the past inventions that came out of Xerox Parc, such as the first PC, the first mouse and an early graphical user interface - which the company famously failed to turn into products.
At a session with reporters after his keynote, Thoman said Xerox failed to make money out of them because those innovations were ahead of their time. He said: "The fact that we were an analogue company meant there were not that many places for these things to go. Now we're in the digital age and going into networked solutions you should see a lot of [the new innovations showcased at Comdex] in products soon."
With the help of Xerox chief scientist, John Seely Brown, and the ancient Greek character made famous in the company's ad campaigns, Thoman showed off an inch sized chip packed with more than 1000 lasers, a Web server that fits in the palm of your hand and the morphing Polybot robot.
This is a crawling computer, developed for the US government, which will be used by rescue personnel in difficult and dangerous conditions. It is made up of modules, each with its own software and hardware, that are linked together so they can intelligently reconfigure themselves to slip through holes or climb over rocks.
The laser chip is two centimetres in size and is embedded with more than a thousand lasers that are independently addressable. This technology could enable printers and other devices to run at blinding speeds, promised Xerox executives.
The company also demonstrated a digital book printing system that can create books on demand in as fast as one minute. The system is aimed at printing short run books, such as those for review or reprints and Xerox has already signed European book giant Bertelsmann as a major customer.
But Thoman said Xerox is now much more than a paper company and showed off the company's developments for making websites 'stickier'.
An example was Fluid Document which enables users to click on certain words from which more text emerges to reveal additional background material, but the user remains at the original page. The company has also taken this one step further by making sentences literally bend down to meet the next paragraph to illustrate the flow of words.
But Thoman acknowledged that printed documents will always be Xerox's bread and butter. He said: "We used to think that technology would eventually make paper disappear. But the reverse has happened. For most people, paper is the medium of choice. It's easier to carry, never needs batteries, and you can discard it and reprint it whenever and wherever you want."
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