Modern Display Technology Showing its Flexibility

Carl Weinschenk

For a lot of people, current events are not particularly enjoyable these days-so it may be a relief to pay attention to what is going to happen in the future. One area in which the future is closing in fairly rapidly is flexible displays. It's a fun and potentially important category, and The Motley Fool does a good job of imagining some future uses.

 

The U.S. Army and Arizona State University are two of the drivers of the new technology. In this case, one (flexible) picture truly is worth a thousand words, and that picture can be found at CNET. The story says that the army is doubling its $50 million investment in the Flexible Display Center at ASU.


The coolness facto which is considerable -- isn't that only thing in play here. The armed forces, after all, don't do things just to be cool. Indeed, some of the best and most useful technology-including the Internet itself-has deep military roots. In this case, the army wants to use flexible displays to allow troops to more fluidly receive and use information while in the field and in battle. So far, one commercial product-the Soldier Flex PDA from Inhand Electronics-has been introduced.

 

Flexible displays-which the piece describes as paper-thin electronic screens -- can be manipulated in a number of ways, including being sewn into clothing. In addition to one other academic institution-Lehigh University-backers of the center include an interesting array of companies that clearly have commercial designs on the concept: Boeing, E Ink, Hewlett-Packard, LG, Raytheon and Plextronics.


Unidym, a company in Meno Park, CA, is reported by PC World and others to be planning to commercialize flexible displays this year. Its approach will use carbon nanotubes instead of the indium tin oxide (ITO) sheets used in LCDs today. Indeed, the story says that nanotubes could eventually displace ITOs in stationary LCDs because they are cheaper. Samsung, the story says, displayed a nanotube e-paper device last October. The writer says that Sony is working with organic light emitting displays (OLEDs), though they are relatively expensive.


The core of HP's approach is the Self-Aligned Imprint Lithography (SAIL) process. The Future of Things offers a very technical description of SAIL and other elements of the flexible display offered by the vendor and the Flexible Display Center. The central explanation in the piece assumes a certain level of scientific understanding. The bottom line, however, is clear: The process enables images to be maintained even when no voltage is applied. The story quotes an iSuppli analyst as saying that the flexible display market will grow from $8 million in 2007 to $2.8 billion in 2013. Possible uses are electronic paper and signage, notebooks abd smartphones, the story says.


This is an extremely well written-it's in the Economist, after all-description of flexible displays. The most interesting element is that what the publication cites as the two biggest remaining challenges have nothing to do with flexibility itself. That obstacle, apparently, already has been overcome. Instead, the limitations are that refresh rates are not yet fast enough to display motion and the fact that displays are in black and white. There is little doubt, the writer says, that the two problems will be solved. The advantages of that flexible displays already enjoy is that they are less difficult and expensive to make and require less energy to operate.


 

Get ready to hear alot about flexible displays -- and such exotic devices as fold up smartphones, tents with sewn in displays (one use cited by The Motley Fool) and full motion, folding newspapers (as in The Minority Report). It certainly is more fun to think of these things than the current financial situation.



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