Can phones have screens that can bend and flex and even roll up conveniently? That would be a great idea, an unbreakable phone that can be rolled up and placed in small spaces when not in use. Actually, it isn’t just an idea. Such phones are already here, at least in concept models.
Samsung is a company that has been making great strides in creating flexible phone models. They had showcased the concept this year at CES 2013 and have come out with the Samsung Galaxy Round, which has a curved profile. They also have the Youm concept, the basis for a flexible screen phone.
Flexible Displays – History
The idea of flexible displays has been around for about a decade now. Many consumer electronics companies and a few research labs like Xerox PARC have been working on this technology for years.
Xerox PARC designed a flexible display technology named Gyricon. This was used to create an e-paper screen. A company calledGyriconLLC was formed in 2003 to make and market devices that used this concept. However, in 2005 Xerox closed this company and decided to license the Gyricon technology.
Next was Arizona State University’s turn. They received funding from the Army Research Lab to develop a flexible display for the army. Later Hewlett Packard tied up with the university and demonstrated two e-paper prototypes based on their combined research.
A company named Paper Logic used its own proprietary organic thin film transistor technology to manufacture flexible displays. Polymer Vision, a Phillips Electronics spinoff that was later bought by a Taiwanese company, had conducted research into creating a flexible screen that could be rolled up. But the company was recently shut down for financial reasons.
Prominent electronics companies like Sony, Samsung, LG and Nokia have all been working on the idea of developing flexible screens.
Nokia’s Bendable Twistable Phones
Nokia demonstrated two phones based on two different concepts, the Morph and the Kinetic. They showcased the prototype of the phone based on the Kinetic concept in 2011. The phone could be bent, twisted and squeezed. In fact these actions acted as controls, with the bending action acting as a scroll control. The more acute the bend, the faster was the scrolling action.
Samsung’s Foldable Screens
At CES 2009, Samsung displayed a foldable screen, a 5.4 inch OLED display folded seamlessly in half. At CES 2011, and then again at CES 2013, Samsung again put on displayconcept phones that could flex. By 2013, Samsung had given a name to their flexible display technology, YOUM.
Sony’s Rollable Display
Sony has been working with Riken to develop bendable technology. In 2010, Sony showcased a 4.1 inch OLED display screen that could be rolled several times on a 4 mm cylinder. It displays the image or video while still being rolled.
Unlike flexible displays from other companies, this screen didn’t separate the circuitry from the display. It has an on-panel gate driven circuit controlling the device. It was a prototype model, displaying a 432×240 picture. The idea was very exciting, combining display and circuitry in a single flexible unit.
The Advantages Of A Flexible Screen
The advantages are many. If this technology were to become a reality, even a large screen TV couldbe fold up and stored in a corner when not in use. Tablets, which could bend and stretch without breaking, could be rolled up and carried in pockets.
Why They Haven’t Seen The Light Of Day As Yet
There are many hurdles to bringing this idea to the market. The cost of mass production can be high. A huge technical obstacle lies in integrating the computing components with the flexible screen. This can be difficult as current silicon based IC chips can’t really be rolled up.
Sony has already demonstrated an innovative solution to the problem of integrating the flexible display and the circuitry on a single surface. They used an on-panel gate driven circuit in their roll-able screen demo in 2010.
There are many research studies being conducted to create completely flexible electronic circuitry. The single crystal silicon used to make ICs today is rigid. But a researcher at the University of Illinois, John Rogers, and his team have created a flexible form of silicon by making it ultra thin, just a 100 nanometers thick.
Another alternative is to replace silicon with other materials. Graphene is one such material being explored for use in creating flexible circuitry. It’s very thin, about a one atom thick sheet of carbon.
As interest in creating fully flexible devices grows, the research into flexible displays and circuitry also receives an impetus.
Some Applications Of Flexible Displays
Flexible screens open up a lot of possibilities. Primarily, since these screens can be potentially used on any surface, they can find many applications.
These displays can be used on the sides of buses and buildings to display ads. A company called NanoLumens has already designed a flexible LED screen that has been installed at the NASCAR Museum at Charlotte, NC. It has been installed in a curved wall.
HP is developing a flexible wristband display that could connect with GPS and also display other information. Car maker Toyota showcased their concept vehicle that used flexible screens to let the colors of the vehicle be changed dynamically.
These are some of the experimental concepts that can make use of flexible displays. These are in addition to the smartphones and tablets and TVs that could really take advantage of this technology once they become feasible.
Samsung Galaxy Round
Samsung put on display a flexible bendable phone, unnamed and running on Windows, at CES 2013. Now, they have released a new smartphone called the Samsung Galaxy Round. This phone is not actually flexible, but has a bent screen. It is curved on its vertical axis.
Samsung Galaxy Round has a feature called Round Interaction that lets the user check on the battery level, time and missed calls by rocking it gently when it lies on a flat surface.
This phone is probably Samsung’s experiment on user reaction to the design and functionality of flexible displays. There has, as yet, been no announcement of a model that will fully implement the YOUM technology.
What Future Are We Looking At?
Flexible screens offer an exciting vision for the future. Users will be freed from the rigid and brittle gadgets they use every day. Perhaps in the near future, you can buy a tablet that can be neatly folded and carried around in your pocket. You can roll up your TV like a roll of canvas and carry it with you as you travel.
With fully foldable units that integrate flexible displays and circuits, you could have a laptop that can be rolled up and put way when not in use. You wouldn’t have to bother carrying it around in a bag. Just pick it up like a roll of paper.
The possibilities that flexible screens and circuitry open up are virtually endless. You’ll have freedom from carrying around heavy gadgets. You can be free of worries in case you drop your phone accidently or when they get damaged by rough use.
Perhaps, flexible screen phones are the future.