Super-Thin, Super-Light, Durable and Cheap Bendable/Flexible OLED (FOLED) Display Technology on the Way for U.S. Military’s Future Soldiers?

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By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com

Photo Credit: Universal Display Corporation (UDC)

June 30, 2009
Article last updated on 7/03/09.

Last October (2008), DefenseReview reported on interesting Flexible OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) a.k.a. FOLED display screen technology being developed by researchers at Sony and the Max Planck Institute (Max Planck Institut für informatik). Well, flexible display screens for tactical applications, including military applications, may have just taken another giant leap forward, if a recent spate of press releases and news articles are true. Universal Display Corporation (UDC) has teamed up with researchers at Arizona State University’s (ASU) Flexible Display Center (FDC) to create “the first a-Si:H active matrix organic light-emitting diode [AMOLED] display to be manufactured directly on DuPont Teijin’s polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) substrate”. The resulting product is a super-thin flexible OLED (FOLED) display that utilizes Universal Display’s PHOLED (Phosphorescent Organic Light-Emitting Diode) technology and materials, thus achieving the same level of brightness while consuming less power.

It’s being reported that the new active-matrix flexible OLED display–DefenseReview presumes this could be called an “AMFOLED” display (DefenseReview’s term)?–is capable of converting 100 percent of its energy into light versus 25 percent for standard OLEDs, making UDC’s PHOLED tech four times as efficient as conventional OLED tech. An alien Predator/ U.S. Army Future Warrior-type wrist band communicator/display for military operators (i.e. soldiers) is reportedly a primary application being envisioned for flexible OLED display technology, although the display would have to be appropriately ruggedized for military applications.

However, as big as the military market might be, the commercial consumer market is most likely significantly larger. On this note, it’s being reported that while it’s perhaps too late to apply the technology to the new Apple iPhone 3G S cell phone, it’s possible the new FOLED display tech could find it’s way onto the Apple iPod Touch portable media player (MP3/Video player) before the end of the year (2009).  According to gizmag,  the AMFOLED technology/hardware can be integrated with touchscreen tech/hardware that must be economically feasible (we assume).  The following is an excerpt from the gizmag piece on the ASU touchscreen/flexible display tech/hardware:

The creation of the world’s first touchscreen active matrix display on a flexible, glass-free substrate by the FDC was achieved in collaboration its partners E Ink Corporation and DuPont Teijin Films by combining the FDC’s low-temperature thin film transistor technology, DuPont Teijin Films’ high-performance TeonexR polyethylene napthalate (PEN) films and E Ink’s VizplexTM-ink laminate to form active matrix electrophoretic (electronic paper) displays. The touchscreen capability is enabled by integrating a low-power display controller that was co-developed by E Ink and Epson and demonstrated as part of E Ink’s developer’s kit.

As Dr. Michael McCreary, VP of Research and Advanced Development at E Ink points out, “Pen and touch input has become the preferred user interface in many portable electronic devices. The ability to incorporate the flexible touch feature into the E Ink Vizplex display will enable a host of new applications that require shatterproof displays.” The display also offers power saving advantages over traditional displays as it consumes power only when the electronic paper is activated and, once sketched on, the information can be stored or sent wirelessly before erasing. The FDC see applications for the technology to include allowing soldiers, and ultimately other users, to input, store or transmit real-time data from remote locations using ultra low-power displays that are rugged, sunlight readable, lightweight and thin.

DefenseReview sees a whole plethora of military and civilian applications for super-thin flexible/bendable full-color displays, including cheap, durable ultralight/ultrathin roll-out laptop computers and portable media readers (imagine downloading all of your favorite newspapers, magazines and books via WiFi or WiMax to one portable color flexible-display device), standard cell phones/PDAs, wrist cell-phones/PDAs, wristwatches, wall televisions (TV) / computers, eyeglasses (including sunglasses), clothing/BDUs, large-format dynamic battlefield representations and maps (showing the battlespace in real time), digital cameras,  dynamic posters, and dynamic store displays, just to name a few.

Nicholas Colaneri, FDC’s director, thinks they can make the new flexible displays almost as inexpensively as current LCD displays through a proprietary manufacturing process that combines the plastic substrate with the electronics behind it. This manufacturing process employs the same equipment that’s currently used to make electronics on glass screens for LCD electronics. The FDC researchers use amorphous silicon to make the requisite organic semiconductors and mobile transistors.

LCD electronics are processed at temperatures above 300 °C, which is too high. Plastic will melt at those temperatures. By contrast, the Flexible Display Center’s manufacturing process works at a relatively low temperature of 180 °C. This brings up an interesting temperature conundrum. Amorphous silicon transistors (AST) typically don’t perform well at such a low temperature, and plastic tends to melt, stretch, or wrinkle at temperature above 100 °C. So, the FDC team had to figure out a way to get good-quality amorphous silicon transistors AND good plastic displays at 180 °C, which they seem to have accomplished. Mark Hartney, chief technical officer at the FlexTech Alliance, a display-industry consortium, states that this accomplishment is unique in the industry. And, Jennifer Colgrove, an analyst with the consulting firm DisplaySearch, classifies FDC’s ability to build amorphous silicon transistors on plastic with virtually no distortion as a signficant accomplishment.

“Amorphous silicon is a mainstream tech for LCD manufacturing around the world today,” Hartney says. “This opens the doors to being able to utilize any LCD fabrication facility. There has been billions of dollars of investment in LCD manufacturing capacity. You could go into any other LCD fab around the world and do the same process to get a flexible OLED product.”

Defense Review will be keeping an eye on this AMFOLED technology, as it most likely prove to be an extremely important technology for military/tactical and civilian applications (and perhaps an integral part of daily living) in the coming years, particularly if it can be successfully–and affordably–integrated with touchscreen technology, and be durable.

Company/Organization Contact Info:

Universal Display Corporation (UDC)
375 Phillips Boulevard
Ewing, NJ 08618
609-6710980 Phone
609-6710995 Fax Website

Nick Colaneri
Flexible Display Center (FDC)
Arizona State University (ASU) Research Park
7700 South River Parkway
Tempe, Arizona 85284
480-727-8941 Office
480-727-8957 Fax Email Website

E Ink Corporation
733 Concord Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
PH: 617-499-6000
FX: 617-499-6200

DuPont Teijin Films U.S. Limited Partnership
3600 Discovery Drive
Chester, VA 23836 USA
Tel: 800-635-4639
Tel: 804-530-4076
Fax: 804-530-9862
USA Website
Main Website

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Super-Thin, Super-Light, Durable and Cheap Bendable/Flexible OLED (FOLED) Display Technology on the Way for U.S. Military’s Future Soldiers? by

About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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