The holy grail of display technology is small, light and flexible; it’s also virtually impossible to break, consumes almost no power, and can be rolled up or folded and put in your pocket. Amazing? Yes. Pipe dream? Don't be so sure. This article takes a close look at where we are in the development of flexible displays.
Flexible displays set to become reality
If it all sounds a little too much like science fiction, then try telling that to the researchers who work at the Flexible Display Center (FDC) at Arizona State University. They have been working to build displays that meet these apparently impossible requirements since 2004, and hope to have the first working prototypes ready for field trials as early as 2010.
Center director Gregory Raupp says the organization’s goal is to speed development towards availability for commercial manufacturing. In pursuit of this goal the center has already produced a number of demonstration panels, including a 13 ounce PDA based around an electrophoretic ink display mounted on a Silicon TFT back plane.
Electrophoretic ink – widely known as E Ink – forms the cornerstone of the center’s efforts. This technology is already being used in a number of commercially available rigid-display devices such as the Amazon Kindle, iRex iLiad and Motorola’s Motofone F3 cell phone, with the number set to grow rapidly due to this type of display’s many advantages over standard technologies such as LCD.
E Ink displays are based on a film of microcapsules, each one containing a colored fluid within which black and white electrically charged particles are suspended. Applying a current to the capsule forces the suspended particles either to the top or bottom of the capsule to give the appearance of ink on paper.
One of the key benefits of the technology is its thinness when assembled. The sheet of microcapsules, its array of electrodes, and the layers of plastic laminate that hold the whole thing together can require a total thickness of just 80 micrometers, which is roughly twice the thickness of ordinary paper. Over time this thickness is expected to be reduced still further, to create truly paper-like displays.
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