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Xerox Shows Off Future Tech And Tries To Better Define Itself

Despite failed attempts to cash in, the company and its PARC subsidiary have several pillars of growth in mind to compete with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce.com.
One of the more promising technologies demonstrated at Tuesday's event was self-erasing, reusable paper. The paperless office, said PARC researcher Eric Schrader, "is something Xerox worries about a lot." But as Schrader pointed out, Xerox needed worry because "people love paper." They love it so much that they're willing to waste it needlessly: 44.5% of documents are printed for one-time use, according to Schrader.

It takes 204,000 joules of energy to create one sheet of paper from virgin pulp, explained Schrader, which is the equivalent of a 60-watt light bulb illuminated for an hour. Producing one page of recycled paper takes about half as much energy. But either way, that's a lot of waste in terms of energy and materials just to print something that will be thrown away after a single use.

Though initially a bit more energy intensive to produce, a page of the self-erasing, reusable paper Xerox and PARC have developed requires only 1,000 joules to print with 10% coverage. The ink fades after about 24 hours.

Schrader said that further work needs to be done before the technology is commercialized, such as determining whether faded words can be made legible using a microscope or some other technology. But such innovation, once refined and properly brought to market, could significantly enhance Xerox's business and its image. What's not to like about 90% less waste?

In keeping with its roots in printing technology, Xerox researcher Rob Rolleston demonstrated a prototype called Document Production Visualization. The system offers WYSIWYG print production. It encompasses not only document page layout, but printing and finishing.

Rolleston demonstrated how a book project might visualized to show binding options and how 3-D printed marketing material -- the kind that requires cutting and folding -- could be easily visualized and produced. Using such a system, one could create, say, a pop-up book or offer consumers the ability to design complex birthday cards with multiple folds. "It's mass customization taken to the extreme," he explained.

Xerox used to refer to itself as "the document company." But documents have undergone profound changes as they have migrated online, and they continue to do so. Documents are different for different needs and different media now. Xerox faces the challenge of addressing those needs through services that define document presentation and distribution inside and across organizations. Perhaps what it needs, as a Forrester research director suggested, was to buy a business process management company.

While "Inside Innovation at Xerox" didn't entirely clarify how PARC's work would lead to happier Xerox shareholders, it did serve to illuminate the company's potential and its pioneer spirit.