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Long-lifetime electronic shelf label in development

Sara Ver-Bruggen - 15 May 2012


Electronic shelf label (ESL) systems have had somewhat patchy commercial success, so a US start-up is developing hardware that aims to resolve issues retailers have with the technology.

Lorktech's durable, long-lifetime, ESL comprises a set of flexible electronics technologies, including e-paper and solar cells, patented by the company. Image: LorktechLorktech in Cleveland, Ohio, is developing a tough ESL label with double the operational lifetime of commercially available ESLs, explains vice president Mike Giammo.

He notes: 'We met with several retailers and identified the issues holding them back from adopting ESL systems. The first is lifespan of the label, which tends to last 3-5 years - not long enough for a big retailer, where the batteries die before the roll-out is complete.

'The other is durability; displays need to be tough to withstand being knocked about, dropped and so on.'

Pilots

The start-up is now setting up trials with local retailers for later in 2012.

Lorktech has focused on the label hardware, overcoming the lifespan issue by using bistable electrophoretic 'e-paper' displays, solar cells and design them to be operational on radio frequency.

To make the label durable the entire device is flexible, including the e-paper display, power source and circuitry.

Giammo notes: 'You can throw it against a wall.'

The start-up was founded by Mark Lorkowski, a student at Case Western Reserve University, in 2010.

In terms of location, Lorktech is well placed to take advantage of the region's flexible electronics industry, where companies such as Kent Displays have been on hand to dispense advice, and mentor Giammo and colleagues, who are in their early 20s.

Giammo remarks: 'The cost of the label comes in under other ESLs. We've had huge help and support. The area's history is manufacturing and our goal is to manufacture here.'

The collaborative environment has enabled the start-up to leverage local support in terms of financing and other resources. Lorktech, Giammo says, is ironing out a few issues with existing ESL technology and, in the process, developing a platform technology that can evolve to include other applications, such as 'smart-store' concepts.

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