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Portable, Flexible Displays Possible Over Next Three Years

November 3, 2008

New tests being conducted on behalf of the U.S. Army may result in the development of new low power, lightweight foldable displays that use ink rather than crystals or diodes.

Dr. Gregory Raupp is the director of the Flexible Display Center at Arizona University, which has been backed by the U.S. Army to conduct research on the displays.

Raupp said the Army is just two to three years from field testing ultra portable communication devices that use the technology.

“We’re to the point now where we can see that commercialization of flexible displays will happen shortly,” said Raupp. “We like to think of this as the dawn of the flexible-display age.”

The research center, formed through a partnership between the Army Research Laboratory and the university, has been working on creating flexible displays since 2004. So far, the U.S. Army has invested nearly $44 million toward the research.

Development of devices using the new foldable technology would allow the military to send greater information to soldiers and replace many of the bulky devices that they carry currently.

The flexible displays will consume 100 times less power compared with liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Even organic light-emitting diode-based displays (OLEDs), which are two to three times more efficient than LCDs, can’t match that kind of efficiency.

The center is focusing on electrophoretic ink-based displays that are extremely low power and flexible, Raupp said.

The displays have thin-film transistor arrays on specialty polymer and thin stainless-steel substrates and use electrophoretic ink (E Ink), among other technologies, to render the characters.

“We recognize that flexible-display technology is a new capability that will not only make the things we do now better,” said Dr. David Morton, of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, “but will enable us to give the Soldiers information in ways we cannot do at the moment.”

Morton also mentioned the possibility of a portable wrist display.

“Something that uses very little power, fits on the soldier’s arm, and can provide him a map of where he is, where his friends are, where he needs to go, where the enemy is, perhaps update him with specific instructions on something, like how to enter a building. If he has it on his wrist and bangs it into a wall or he’s crawling on the ground, it will not break,” he said.

Beyond the military advantages, the new technology could bring great opportunities for industry as well.

“Product designers are going to get a tremendous design freedom from the fact that they’re no longer stuck with a glass, fragile, rectangular display,” said Raupp. “They’ll be able to put a display on any surface or a free-standing surface that could be unrolled.”

“What we will be able to do with the technology is only limited by what you can think of,” Raupp said.

Image Courtesy Wired.com

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