Advanced displays Rolling out market-ready flexible displays
Flexible displays that can be bent, rolled up or even attached to clothing have long captured the imaginations of film-makers. Now they are making the leap from science fiction to science – and consumer – reality.
Displays akin to the newspapers with moving images seen in films such as Minority Report and the Harry Potter series could soon become everyday items thanks to the work of a consortium of European companies and research institutes.
Working in the FlexiDis project, researchers have created the world’s first production-ready method of manufacturing flexible displays. The research has also triggered several spin-off initiatives that should result in commercial products on the market in the near future.
The goal, say the researchers, is not to compete directly with the rigid flat panel displays that have become a common addition to consumer electronics devices, but to start introducing products in novel market areas and even create new markets that could not exist without the technology.
From supermarket displays to e-paper
Flexible displays could, for example, be used to display prices on supermarket shelves, wrapped around vehicles for advertising or attached to the arms of jackets to provide people with location information.
Or they could be incorporated into mobile phones or laptop computers and rolled out when the user wants a bigger, higher resolution screen for watching a movie or looking at architectural drawings.
One of their first uses will be as e-paper, which can be used as rollout displays for reading a book, viewing a digital map or catching up on e-mails on the fly.
E-reader applications are already being developed by two companies spun-off during the FlexiDis project. One is Polymer Vision, set up by project partner Philips. The other is Plastic Logic, established by the University of Cambridge.
Breakthrough manufacturing method
Meanwhile, another partner, Thales Avionics LCD, is using the technology to develop new displays for the avionics industry.
At the heart of the success of the FlexiDis project is a breakthrough in the method used to manufacture flexible displays, allowing them to be produced cost-effectively in existing factories built to make flat panel displays.
Called EPLaR (Electronics on Plastic by Laser Release), the technology works by depositing thin-film transistors (TFTs) – the components that control the state of each pixel in a display – in a plastic layer coated onto a glass plate.
The plastic is a special kind of polymer called polyimide that can resist the high temperatures needed to make the TFTs. It is then pealed from the glass plate using a laser process to create an ultra-thin, light and robust display that can be bent or rolled up like a magazine.
Developing the technology
The partners also experimented with using organic TFTs, which can be deposited at lower temperatures to allow more types of plastics to be used. They tested organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which emit their own light from each pixel rather than using liquid- crystal pixels that filter light from a background source.
Currently three out of four factories in the world producing flexible displays are in Europe. All four use technologies developed by the FlexiDis project.
Call for proposal
See other projects for this call
Funding SchemeIP - Integrated Project
92100 Boulogne Billancourt
CB4 OFX Cambridge
WC2B 6UN London
CB2 1TN Cambridge
CR9 3QR Croydon
M9 8ZS Manchester
HU1 1YN Hull