The Flexible Future of Tech | Editorial

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Many technologists theorise that the development of cheap, flexible touch-screen displays will be one of the most significant leaps in the near future. Already, there have been rumours and concept ideas of a flexible HTC phone and Kodak Televisions and it is easy to understand why these are so attractive. But, what is the science behind these concepts and how on earth can a display be flexible?

Firstly, I would like to clarify what I mean by flexible. A 'flexible' display is able to bend, much like rubber, the image on the screen remains undistorted and the internals of the device remain unaffected allowing it to function as if it were rigid.

Why do we need flexible devices?

A flexible display would be virtually unbreakable. It could be rubberized and strengthened to prevent cracking and scratching if dropped and if it was a portable device, because of its ability to bend, would not be faltered by the stresses of the skin-tight trouser.  It would also be possible for displays to be put on canvasses that no-one had ever though possible to put them on before; for example, a cup of tea letting you know how hot it is - after being made in a teapot with a flexible screen too! The possibilities are endless.

Where could we see flexible devices and displays pop up?

This is a big question. After all, we all need to know the applications of a new technology. Anything that currently uses a touch-screen - or even a non-touch-screen display, although I doubt there will be many of these around in the coming years - could use a flexible display. In addition to this, everyday objects could have displays added to them. Perhaps cupboards and drawers could have screens displaying their contents and, almost certainly, calendars, pictures and posters will be redesigned to conform to the new method of display. Parcels could have small, reusable - this is important - displays as well.

What are the benefits of these displays?

I believe the main benefit of the flexible display is its versatility. Because the display has so many uses, it can replace a substance which make an effort to preserve more and more - paper. Newspapers, books, documents and more could all be accessed via digital flexible displays which would cut the use of paper completely, but not remove the feeling that we all know and love. The substances used in these displays are completely natural meaning, if we ever did need to dispose of them, no damage would be done to the environment.

How on Earth do they work?

Flexible displays currently exist - this is not science-fiction - and have been included in several prototype and concept devices in different industries. Let's get down to the science. The flexible screens I have been talking about are Organic Light Emitting Diode displays. This sleek profile is achieved by the way the screens are made up. Sheets of organic compounds - nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon, etc. - are layered on top of each other. Each set of layers is designed to emit a different frequency of electromagnetic radiation, which appears as visible light, when an electric current is passed through it. Each layer in the display is less than half the thickness of a human hair meaning, even when they are stacked up, the screen is thin and strong enough to bend and flex, and  half the thickness of even the latest SAMOLED+ displays available. By using different compounds in the layers, up to two million different colours can be created which produces the best quality graphics available, better than the best high-definition television displays.

When will we see this technology?

Much of this technology was featured in Microsoft's presentation video, Microsoft Sustainability, which provides an interesting insight into the screens mentioned here. It was expressed at this presentation that its contents should start appearing in 2019. It is amazing to think that this technology is just around the corner and most people will have the chance to experience it.

Video Concepts

Microsoft Sustainability showed screens in use everywhere - used in business, education and on the go. This concept of the future is heavily based on the principle that screens will be everywhere and anyone will be able to digitally project content from their handheld data storage device or 'hyper-smart-phone'. Another future concept that uses this base is Future of Screen Technology by TAT. It shows not only flexible screens, but extendable and adjustable ones. This is most likely further away than flexible screens, but it is always a good idea to keep an open mind, especially in this fact-paced and ever-developing technology-centric world.

© 2011, Graham Macphee