German Researchers Say 'Minority Report' Transparent Screens Possible

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DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY -- If you've seen the movie Minority Report and marveled at the transparent computer screens Tom Cruise's character uses, you'll appreciate what German researchers have concocted in their labs: entirely transparent OLED (organic light emitting diode) pixels.

The researchers, located at the Technical University of Braunschweig, are claiming the development to be a world first.

How It Works

Their approach is to use transparent TFTs (thin-film transistors) made of a 100-nanometer-thick layer of zinc-tin-oxide, which transmits more than 90 percent of visible light. Such transistors are more often made of silicon, which is used for LCDs (liquid crystal displays) but is highly absorptive in the visible part of the spectrum.

In the transparent displays, the TFTs and the OLED pixels are positioned next to each other. The OLED pixel can be placed on top of the TFT driver circuit without interference.

In addition, because the TFT layers are thin, they can be deposited on large areas with conventional techniques; and because these techniques can be performed at temperatures below 200 degrees Celsius, cheap, flexible plastic substrates can be used.

In the devices the researchers developed, the brightness of the OLED pixels varied from 0 to 700 candelas per square meter as a result of changes made in the voltage of the driving TFTs. By comparison, typical computer screens today reach a brightness of approximately 300 candelas per square meter.

Available in Two Years

Thomas Riedl, head of the organic and inorganic lasers team of the High-Frequency Institute at the Technical University of Braunschweig, expects the first prototype transparent OLED displays to be available in two years.

Transparent displays could have numerous applications, including screens that supply surgeons with additional information in their field of view or car windshields that allow drivers to view directions while driving, according to Riedl.

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