Carbon Nanotubes, OLEDs Promise Flexible Displays

At least two emerging technologies contain the promise of displays you can bend, or even roll up. One of them, carbon nanotubes, may also offer cheaper displays in general.

Unidym, a Menlo Park, California-based company, hopes to have carbon nanotube-based products on the market this year. The nanotubes, which come in the form of transparent, conductive sheets, replace the indium tin oxide (ITO) sheets used in LCDs and other flat displays. According to Unidym VP of Business Development Sean Olson, today's ITO sheets have "a lot of processing issues. You can make flexible displays with [them], but they're not that flexible, and you have to be careful with them."

Even inflexible displays may benefit economically from carbon nanotubes, which could be cheaper to manufacture in large quantities. "Ours is water-based solution," Olson told the Industry Standard. "You just coat it on. That gives you a lot of savings."

Samsung demonstrated the first carbon nanotube-based display, an e-paper device (an electronic device that mimics paper), last October.

But you need more than a pliable conductive transparent sheet to make a flexible display. The basic, image-creating technology must also be bendable. Olson explains that "It's really hard to bend an LCD display. And you also have to make a flexible backlight unit."

Sony got around that problem by displaying a flexible OLED screen at CES this year, according to an article on KATU.com. OLED displays, which don't require backlights, can be more flexible than LCDs. But they're also much more expensive. The Sony display didn't use carbon nanotubes, but there is no reason why future flexible OLED displays could not. It remains to be seen how much that will help with the cost.

In a few years, you may roll up a newspaper and tuck it under your arm without any paper involved. And it might even be reasonably priced.

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