REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Rollable color displays could become available as early as 2015, according to a leading researcher in the field. The displays are expected to enable a new class of mobile products.
That's the rough estimate of Janglin Chen, general director of the display technology center at Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute. ITRI's flexible display beat more than 590 submissions to win a gold innovation award sponsored by Dow Jones this week.
Researchers like Chen are still looking for a mechanism that would let consumers roll a smartphone- or tablet-sized display in and out of a system the size of a fat crayon. Today's flexible displays are bendable but cannot be rolled so tightly or often without damaging the materials.
"For bending, we can do this 15,000 times in the lab without deterioration of the screen's performance, but to make a device that's rollable by consumers who are more abusive requires a more sturdy design," said Chen who demonstrated a prototype in a video interview.
ITRI has licensed its technology to Taiwan's AU Optronics which is preparing to make displays that will appear in e-readers from BenQ in 2011. The displays will be built in an existing Generation 3.5 LCD fab.
The technology uses a plastic material that can withstand the high temperatures of TFT LCD processes. The approach requires two new manufacturing steps—a coating at the beginning and a de-bonding at the end. ITRI has licensed its technology to a Taiwan equipment maker who is creating the manufacturing equipment.
Competing approaches from companies such as Polymer Vision and Plastic Logic use an organic material that requires low temperature manufacturing techniques, said Chen. ITRI's displays have the same color and contrast capabilities as similar sized conventional TFT LCDs.
"This opens up the mindset for the designer for new kinds of toys, medical sensors or other products," said Chen.
Engineers could use the technology to develop electronic displays that mimic the features of paper. For example, designers could build a portable x-ray display that could be wrapped around an arm or leg, he said.
Although rollable displays are still at least five years off, ITRI is working on versions of its current bendable technology for Organic LED displays and touch screens.
ITRI researchers are working with AU Optronics trying to find a plastic material that could protect OLEDs from oxygen and moisture. Separately, ITRI is working with an unnamed touch-screen technology provider on a touch-screen version of the TFT LCD flexible display with products expected in one to two years.
ITRI'S flex display puts electronics in a rigid pc-board at its base.