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Philips Developing Ultra-Thin Flexible Displays
02-16-04
RTO Online
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Think how much more convenient and enjoyable laptops and multimedia-enabled mobile phones would be with lightweight, flexible displays, that are also virtually indestructible and easy-on-the-eye. With no bulky glass panel, portable computers could become truly 'portable’. The ability to unroll a full-size, high-resolution display would make accessing digital content anytime, anywhere, easier, more practical, and more fun. (See Videos on Rollable display: Long version (2.26 min.) Short version (1.25 min.) )

Given the huge potential market for such displays, there is a vast amount of research investment into these kinds of display across the globe. However, Philips is unique in being the only company close to making the dream a commercial reality. Based on organic electronics technology, it has taken a major step ahead of the pack by creating the world's thinnest, most flexible, active-matrix display.

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Limitless possibilities
These displays are so flexible that ultimately they could be integrated into objects such as pens, surfaces in cars, even clothes. Indeed, because organic electronics-based displays are so thin and pliant, future applications are open to all kinds of possibilities – curved screens, non-rectangular shapes. Today's restrictions on where and how displays can be used will no longer apply. What's more, their indestructibility will make them ideal for mobile applications and situations where ruggedness is crucial: for instance, built-into climbers' gear, or clothing and hardware for the police or military.

Users won't have to sacrifice viewing-comfort to flexibility or design issues either. Philips' approach combines active-matrix polymer driving electronics with a reflective 'electronic ink' front plane (mounted on an ultra-thin sheet of plastic). Developed by the E-ink Corporation in partnership with Philips, this electronic ink gives the displays a paper-like quality, which means they are extremely pleasant to use, and ideal for reading-intensive applications such as e-mail, -books, -newspapers and -magazines.

Polymer Vision makes it happen
Philips' ability to take such a strong lead in this field results from years of groundbreaking research. It has already notched up several key achievements, including the world's first demonstration of organics-based, functional RFID circuits and active-matrix displays. Taking the next step, this know-how is now being exploited by a new Philips' venture, Polymer Vision.

Polymer Vision ( www.polymervision.com ) has a strong capability in the fabrication of large arrays of TFTs (thin-film transistors), and has created an organics-based QVGA (320x240 pixels) active-matrix display, with a diagonal of 5 inches, a resolution of 85 dpi and a bending radius of 2 cm. The active-matrix back plane is just 25 microns thick, and the electronic ink front plane, just 200 microns, resulting in a total thickness of less than three sheets of paper! And with almost 80,000 TFTs the display is the largest organic electronics-based display, with the smallest pixel pitch, reported to date.

In addition to the display itself, Polymer Vision has achieved vitally important results in producing well-functioning, organics-based shift registers, the key building-blocks for the display drivers (as described in the leading scientific publication, Nature Materials (February 1, 2004)). These results are particularly significant because they lead the way to manufacturing complete display drivers onto the same substrate as the display itself. This in turn would mean even greater robustness and reliability from displays with smaller footprints and fewer external connections.

"We can offer potential business partners and customers such an enormous advance over alternative technologies because of Philips' deep expertise and the technology choices we've made," explains Bas van Rens, General Manager, Polymer Vision. "There are other approaches to flexible displays, but organic electronics is in the most favorable position to be developed into an industrially feasible process. Organic electronics offer a unique combination of high flexibility and low temperature processing no other technology can match."

"We are also using standard active-matrix production technologies, so we can move up to industrial quantities very fast. And by adapting the process to our specific needs, we have cut out several of the more time-consuming and costly steps. However, the exciting opportunities for organic electronics-based displays are not about costs. Their vast market potential lies in the applications and their consumer appeal, especially in devices such as laptops and third generation multimedia mobile communications."

As Mr van Rens stresses, Polymer Vision is fully committed to a rapid development of its remarkable rollable display technology. Moreover, with its demonstrated expertise, solid patent position and proven production capabilities, it expects interest from strategic technology partners and lead customers to grow just as rapidly.

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