Imagine taking your desktop computer display, rolling it into a compact tube and tossing it into your briefcase. You've just imagined a future scenario with flexible display technology. It's a future that could include displays built into fabrics, advertising wrapped around objects, cell phones that conform to your hand and screens that curve.
Janice K. Mahon, vice president of technology commercialization at Universal Display, a leading technology developer in the field, says, "To make communications work, you need portability. LCDs just aren't good enough." Universal Display works with a technology called OLED, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes (or Device). Mahon describes the current state of flexible displays as "mid-development," and says, "Our focus is to get to super-flexible, full-color, power-efficient OLED displays."
Companies large and small are pursuing flexible displays. R&D company Eikos, founded by Joe Pich�, 49, has 20 employees and works with Japanese customers and the Department of Energy. The business is trying out a different sort of flexible display material--carbon nanotube technology that can be applied to special surfaces with an inkjet machine. A demonstration of their work shows a screen being rolled up into the size of a pencil. On the other end of the spectrum, Siemens has demonstrated flexible displays that could reach the market next year. Potential uses include business cards, food cartons and medicine packaging.
Growing businesses may be in on the ground floor of developing flexible display technologies, but even more businesses will be affected when these devices reach the wider market. Expect advertising uses to be among the first to hit the mainstream. Mahon sees the production costs coming down considerably as the manufacturing process improves: "Twenty years from now, [it will be hard to] imagine the day that a display wasn't flexible."