The Future is Here: Flexible, Paper Thin Ultra-HD Screens

amoledThe explosion in computing and personal devices in recent years has led to a world where we are constantly surrounded by displays. Whether they belong to personal computers, laptops, smartphones, LCDs, PDAs, or MP3 players, there is no shortage to the amount of screens we can consult. In turn, this proliferation has led computer scientists and engineers to address a number of imperfections these displays have.

For instance, some of these displays don’t work in direct sunlight or are subject to glare. Others are horridly energy-inefficient and will drain their battery life very quickly. Some don’t have high-definition, rich color, and can’t display true black color. Just about all of them are rigid, and all can be broken given a solid enough impact. Luckily, a new age of flexible, ultra-HD screens are on the way that promise to resolve all of this.

amoled-display-3The first examples of this concept were rolled out at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, where Samsung unveiled its revolutionary new AMOLED display on a number of devices. This was followed up in September of 2012 when Nokia unveiled its Kinetic Device at the World Nokia Conference in London. Both devices showcased displays that could bend and flex, and were followed by concept videos produced by electronic giants Sony, 3M and Microsoft.

Since that time, numerous strides have been taken to improve on the technology before it hits the open market. In research published earlier this month in Nature, scientists describe what may be the first steps toward creating a new type of ultrathin, superfast, low-power, high-resolution, flexible color screen. If successful, these displays could combine some of the best features of current display technologies.

ultra-thin-displayThe new displays work with familiar materials, including the metal alloy already used to store data on some CDs and DVDs. The key property of these materials is that they can exist in two states – when warmed by heat, light, or electricity, they switch from one state to the other. Scientists call them phase-change materials (PCMs); and as Alex Kolobov, a researcher at Japan’s Nanoelectronics Research Institute who was not involved in the new work, explains:

It is really fascinating that phase-change materials, now widely used in optical and nonvolatile electronic memory devices, found a potentially new application in display technology.

A PCM display would work similar to the electronic paper used in products like Amazon’s Kindle reader. Both are made by sandwiching a material that has two states, one lighter and one darker, in between layers of transparent conductors. The inner material is a viscous black oil filled with tiny white titanium balls. To make a pixel black or white, a current is run through a tiny area of the glass to either pull the reflective balls to the front, or cause them to recede.

gst-phase-change-nanopixel-display-640x352In a PCM display, the inner material is a substance made of silicon’s heavier cousins: germanium, antimony, and tellurium. The two states of this material (known as GST) are actually two different phases of matter: one an ordered crystal and the other a disordered glass. To switch between them, current pulses are used to melt a tiny column, and either cooled gently to make the crystal or rapidly to make the glass.

This cycle can be done remarkably quickly, more than 1 million times per second. That speed could be a big advantage in consumer products. While scrolling on a Kindle can be terribly slow because the screen only refreshes once per second, the refresh rate on a PCM display would be fast enough to play movies, stream videos, and perform all the tasks people routinely do with their devices.

https://i1.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/nanopixelspr.jpgTo make the new displays, the research team – led by Harish Bhaskaran, a nanoscale manufacturing expert from Oxford University – used a 35-year-old machine developed by the semiconductor industry. They then laid down three layers that were a few nanometers thick of conducting glass, GST, and another layer of conducting glass. Then they used current from the tip of an atomic force microscope to draw pictures on the surface.

These images included everything from a Japanese print of a tidal wave to fleas and antique cars – each one smaller than the width of a human hair. With this sort of flexible, ultra-high resolution screen, a PCM display could be made into everything from a bendable laptop and personal device to a programmable contact lens — like Apple’s Retina Display, except that it would actually fit on your retina.

https://i2.wp.com/images.gizmag.com/gallery_lrg/lg-display-oled-2.jpgTurning this technology into products will require years of labor and hundreds of millions of dollars. Nevertheless, Bhaskaran and his colleagues are optimistic. The electronics industry has lots of experience with all the components, so there are plenty of well-known tricks to try to improve this first draft. And they are hardly alone in their efforts to bring flexible displays to market.

For instance, LG unveiled their new line of flexible OLED TVs at CES earlier this year. Now, they are taking things a step further with the unveiling of two new 18-inch OLED panels, the first of which is a transparent display, while the second can be rolled up. Although both fall short of the 77-inch flexible TV on show at CES, the company says the new panels prove that it has the technology to bring rollable TVs with screens in excess of 50 inches to market in the future.

lg-display-oledUnlike their 77-inch flexible TV that has a fairly limited range of changeable curvature, LG Display’s latest flexible OLED panel can be rolled up into a cylinder with a radius of 3 cm (1.18 in) without the function of the 1,200 x 810 pixel display being affected. This is made possible though the use of a high molecular substance-based polyimide film to create the backplane, rather than conventional plastic .

The transparent OLED panel, on the other hand, was created using LG Display’s transparent pixel design technology. With transmittance of 30 percent, the company says the panel is superior to existing transparent LCD panels that generally achieve around 10 to 15 percent transmittance. LG Display claims to have also reduced the haze of the panel, caused by circuit devices and film components, to just 2 percent.

https://i0.wp.com/images.gizmag.com/gallery_lrg/lg-display-oled-1.jpgAs In-Byung Kang, Senior Vice President and Head of the R&D Center at LG Display, explained:

LG Display pioneered the OLED TV market and is now leading the next-generation applied OLED technology. We are confident that by 2017, we will successfully develop an Ultra HD flexible and transparent OLED panel of more than 60 inches, which will have transmittance of more than 40 percent and a curvature radius of 100R, thereby leading the future display market.

Granted, it will be still be a few years and several hundred million dollars before such displays become the norm for computers and all other devices. However, the progress that is being made is quite impressive and with all the electronics megagiants committed to making it happen, an age where computing and communications are truly portable and much more survivable is likely just around the corner.

Sources: wired.com, gizmag.com, extremetech.com

IFA 2013!

IFA2013There are certainly no shortages of electronic shows happening this year! It seems that I just finished getting through all the highlights from Touch Taiwan which happened back in August. And then September comes around and I start hearing all about IFA 2013. For those unfamiliar with this consumer electronics exhibition, IFA stands for Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, which loosely translated means the Berlin Radio Show.

As you can tell from the name, this annual exhibit has some deep roots. Beginning in 1924, the show was intended to gives electronics producers the chance to present their latest products and developments to the general public, as well as showcasing the latest in technology. From radios and cathode-ray display boxes (i.e. television) to personal computers and PDAs, the show has come a long way, and this year’s show promised to be a doozy as well.

IFA-2013Of all those who presented this year, Sony seems to have made the biggest impact. In fact, they very nearly stole the show with their presentation of their new smartphones, cameras and tablets. But it was their new Xperia Z1 smartphone that really garnered attention, given all the fanfare that preceded it. Check out the video by TechRadar:


However, their new Vaio Tap 11 tablet also got quite a bit of fanfare. In addition to a Haswell chip (Core i3, i5 or i7), a six-hour battery, full Windows connectivity, a camera, a stand, 128GB to 512GB of solid-state storage, and a wireless keyboard, the tablet has what is known as Near Field Communications (NFC) which comes standard on smartphones these days.

This technology allows the tablet to communicate with other devices and enable data transfer simply by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity. The wireless keyboard is also attachable to the device via a battery port which allows for constant charging, and the entire thin comes in a very thin package. Check out the video by Engadget:


Then there was the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, an exhibit which was equally anticipated and proved to be quite entertaining. Initially, the company had announced that their new smartwatch would incorporate flexible technology, which proved to not be the case. Instead, they chose to release a watch that was comparable to Apple’s own smartwatch design.

But as you can see, the end result is still pretty impressive. In addition to telling time, it also has many smartphone-like options, like being able to take pictures, record and play videos, and link to your other devices via Bluetooth. And of course, you can also phone, text, instant message and download all kinds of apps. Check out the hands-on video below:


Toshiba also made a big splash with their exhibit featuring an expanded line of tablets, notebooks and hybrids, as well as Ultra High-Definition TVs. Of note was their M9 design, a next-generation concept that merges the latest in display and networking technology – i.e. the ability to connect to the internet or your laptop, allowing you to stream video, display pictures, and play games on a big ass display!

Check out the video, and my apologies for the fact that this and the next one are in German. There were no English translations:


And then there was their Cloud TV presentation, a form of “smart tv” that merges the best of a laptop to that of a television. Basically, this means that a person can watch video-on-demand, use social utilities, network, and save their files via cloud memory storage, all from their couch using a handheld remote. Its like watching TV, but with all the perks of a laptop computer – one that also has a very big screen!


And then there was the HP Envy Recline, an all-in-one PC that has a hinge that allows the massive touchscreen to pivot over the edge of a desk and into the user’s lap. Clearly, ergonomics and adaptability were what inspired this idea, and many could not tell if it was a brilliant idea or the most enabling invention since the LA-Z-BOY recliner. Still, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool:


Lenovo and Acer also attracted show goers with their new lineup of smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. And countless more came to show off the latest in their wares and pimp out their own versions of the latest and greatest developments. The show ran from September 6th to 11th and there are countless videos, articles and testimonials to still making it to the fore.

For many of the products, release dates are still pending. But all those who attended managed to come away with the understanding that when it comes to computing, networking, gaming, mobile communications, and just plain lazing, the technology is moving by leaps and bounds. Soon enough, we are likely to have flexible technology available in all smart devices, and not just in the displays.

nokia_morphNanofabricated materials are also likely to create cases that are capable of morphing and changing shape and going from a smartwatch, to a smartphone, to a smart tablet. For more on that, check out this video from Epic Technology, which showcases the most anticipated gadgets for 2014. These include transparent devices, robots, OLED curved TVs, next generation smartphones, the PS4, the Oculus Rift, and of course, Google Glass.

I think you’ll agree, next year’s gadgets are even more impressive than this year’s gadgets. Man, the future is moving fast!


Sources:
b2b.ifa-berlin.com, technologyguide.com, telegraph.co.uk, techradar.com

The Birth of an Idea: The Computer Coat!

optical_computer1I’ve been thinking… which is not something novel for me, it just so happens that my thoughts have been a bit more focused lately. Specifically, I have an idea for an invention: something futuristic, practical, that could very well be part of our collective, computing future. With all the developments in the field of personal computing lately, and I my ongoing efforts to keep track of them, I hoped I might eventually come up with an idea of my own.

Consider, the growth in smartphones and personal digital assistants. In the last few years, we’ve seen companies produce working prototypes for paper-thin, flexible, and durable electronics. Then consider the growth in projection touchscreens, portable computing, and augmented reality. Could it be that there’s some middle ground here for something that incorporates all of the above?

Pranav Mistry 5Ever since I saw Pranav Mistry’s demonstration of a wearable computer that could interface with others, project its screen onto any surface, and be operated through simple gestures from the user, I’ve been looking for a way to work this into fiction. But in the years since Mistry talked to TED.com and showed off his “Sixth Sense Technology”, the possibilities have grown and been refined.

papertab-touchAnd then something happened. While at school, I noticed one of the kids wearing a jacket that had a hole near the lapel with a headphones icon above it. The little tunnel worked into the coat was designed to keep the chord to your iPod or phone safe and tucked away, and it got me thinking! Wires running through a coat, inset electrical gear, all the advancements made in the last few years. Who thinks about this kind of stuff, anyway? Who cares, it was the birth of an idea!

headphonesFor example, its no longer necessary to carry computer components that are big and bulky on your person. With thin, flexible electronics, much like the new Papertab, all the components one would need could be thin enough and flexible enough to be worked into the inlay of a coat. These could include the CPU, a wireless router, and a hard drive.

Paper-thin zinc batteries, also under development, could be worked into the coast as well, with a power cord connected to them so they could be jacked into a socket and recharged. And since they too are paper-thin, they could be expected to move and shift with the coat, along with all the other electronics, without fear of breakage or malfunction.

flexbatteryAnd of course, there would be the screen itself, via a small camera and projector in the collar, which could be placed and interfaced with on any flat surface. Or, forget the projector entirely and just connect the whole thing to a set of glasses. Google’s doing a good job on those, as is DARPA with their development of AR contact lenses. Either one will do in a pinch, and could be wirelessly or wired to the coat itself.

google_glass1Addendum: Shortly after publishing this, I realized that a power cord is totally unnecessary! Thanks to two key technologies, it could be possible to recharge the batteries using a combination of flexible graphene solar panels and some M13 peizoelectric virus packs. The former could be attached to the back, where they would be wired to the coats power system, and the M13 packs could be placed in the arms, where the user’s movement would be harnessed to generate electricity. Total self-sufficiency, baby!

powerbuttonAnd then how about a wrist segment where some basic controls, such as the power switch and a little screen are? This little screen could act as a prompt, telling you you have emails, texts, tweets, and updates available for download. Oh, and lets not forget a USB port, where you can plug in an external hard drive, flash drive, or just hook up to another computer.

So that’s my idea, in a nutshell. I plan to work it into my fiction at the first available opportunity, as I consider it an idea that hasn’t been proposed yet, not without freaky nanotech being involved! Look for it, and in the meantime, check out the video of Pranav Mistry on TED talks back in 2010 when he first proposed 6th Sense Tech. Oh, and just in case, you heard about the Computer Coat here first, patent pending!

Nokia Morph Concept Phone

nokia_morphThis story is a bit of an expansion on a preview post, and one which I’ve put off since I spent so much time talking about phones a few weeks ago. And the concept is a little dated at this point, but since it’s still in the works and just as revolutionary. And trust me, its quite cool and to read about!

It seems that there is no shortage of new and radical ideas when it comes to the field of personal communications these days! And when it comes to personal phones, it seems the sky’s the limit. In keeping with the trend to build smaller, ergonomic, flexible and thinner smartphones and PDA’s, Nokia has another concept which is making waves.

It’s known as the Morph, a new concept that showcases some revolutionary leaps being made in numerous fields. Thanks to ongoing collaboration between the Nokia Research Center (NRC) and the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre in the UK, this device incorporates numerous advances being made in terms of thin displays, flexible housings and nanotechnological processes. Once feasible, this phone will literary be assembled at the microscopic levels, leading to a phone made of “smart matter”.

In addition to the revolutionary nanoscale manufacturing process, the phone will present a number of radical new possibilities for users and device manufacturers everywhere. They include:

  • Newly-enabled flexible and transparent materials that blend more seamlessly with the way we live
  • Devices that are self-cleaning and self-preserving
  • Transparent electronics that offer an entirely new aesthetic dimension
  • Built-in solar absorption that charge a device and batteries that are smaller, longer lasting and faster to charge
  • Integrated sensors that allow people to learn more about the environment, empowering them to make better choices

In addition to the advances above, the integrated electronics shown in the Morph concept could cost less and include more functionality in a much smaller space, even as interfaces are simplified and usability is enhanced. What’s more, the development and combination of these technologies will have far-reaching benefits for the fields of communication and personal computing, revolutionizing how people do these in their daily lives.

And of course, Nokia was sure to create an animated video displaying the Morph concept in action. Take a gander:

Source: press.nokia.com, youtube.com

The Future is Here: Paper Thin, Flexible Batteries

flexbatteryAs Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like deja vu, all over again.” Designed to be paper thin, flexible, and printable using a 3D printer device, this latest advancement combines several technological breakthroughs into one package. But instead of being a display device, a PDA, a smartphone, or some high-tech component, this latest piece of future tech is a simple battery. And in a world where technology is becoming increasingly smart, thin and ergonomic, it just may be the way of the future for electrical devices.

Well, simple might be a bit of a stretch. Developed by Imprint Energy, the key piece of technology here is a polymer electrolyte that allows the zinc-based battery to be recharged. In typical batteries, liquid electrolytes are used, which tend to experience the formation of “fingers” which bridge across the lithium interior of the battery and make charging impossible. But in this case, the flexible and customizable zinc anode, electrolyte, and metal oxide cathode of the battery are printed in the form of electrochemical inks.

This is turn leads to the creation of a battery that is not only flexible and printable, but also rechargeable, safer, cheaper, and more powerful than anything currently on the market. The printing process is similar to old-fashioned silk-screening where material is deposited in a pattern by squeezing it through a mesh over a template. While this screen printing is different from what we tend to think of nowadays as 3D printing, it is in keeping with the concept of printing where manufacturing is done on the micro-level, leading to the creation of all kinds of consumer products.

smart-tattooAnd like all technological advancements, this one occurred not in a vacuum but amidst a backdrop of cool and interesting breakthroughs. For example, numerous tech c0mpanies and start-ups are using screen printing to fabricate electronic components that will address the need for cheap and disposable electronics in the next few years.

Norway-based Thin Film Electronics is one such group, which has created a prototype all-printed devices that includes temperature sensors, memory, logic, and uses Imprint Energy’s new battery. In addition, smart tattoos are being created to monitor patient vitals, blood pressure, pulse rate, and blood glucose levels. Printable “smart stickers” for time-sensitive food or medicines are being contemplated as well, patches that would be able to store details of  a products temperature, chemical exposure, freshness, and history of shock and vibe during handling.

All of this, coupled with ultra-thin devices, could led to a future where all devices and electronics are the size of a business card, as thin as a sheet of construction paper, and can be worn on a person’s body. Hey, there’s a reason they call it “smart technology” 😉

Source: Extremetech.com

 

The Future is Here: Paper-Thin Computers

papertab-touchScore one for Canadian researchers and ingenuity! Oh, and Intel and Plastic Logic helped out a little bit 😉 It’s known as the PaperTab, a revolutionary concept which builds on the paper-thin smartphone and recent advances in AMOLED flexible displays. The design made the rounds at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it turned quite a few heads!

As already noted, the PaperTab incorporates the latest in display and flexible technology to create a 10.7-inch e-ink touchscreen display, powered by a Core i5 processor. Users control it by bending and flexing, touching the screen, and tapping one tab to the next. But instead of using it like a normal tablet, the idea is that you have lots of PaperTabs, with each tablet representing a different app – such as email, a typeface, a browser, a and so on.

This might sound like a bit of a downgrade, but the coolest thing about this new computing paradigm is that each PaperTab is aware of other PaperTabs in its proximity. You might push two PaperTabs together to extend an app onto two screens, or you could attach a file to an email by simply tapping one PaperTab on another. In this way, a PaperTab functions like an ordinary document, but with the added benefit of being electronic and transferable.

As it stands, the concept is merely a tech demo being put on by researchers from Queen’s University and corporate reps from Intel and Plastic Logic. No other information is currently available from any of these sources, but it’s likely more will trickle down to the market now that CES 2013 has wrapped up and they don’t need to keep us guessing anymore. And if I were a betting man, I’d say they’ll be available in packs of five or ten, for roughly the same price as an IPad 7 since they’ll probably be coming out at the same time.

Check out the video below of the PaperTab on display at CES 2013 and the demo the team provided:

Microsoft Concept Video: The Future of Smartphones and Computers

futurvision5-550x321Ah, I imagine people are getting tired of these. But permit just one more! In the midst of so many new products and developments in the fields of smartphones, tablets, augmented reality, and wireless technology, Microsoft was sure to add its two cents. Releasing this concept video back in 2011, shortly after the Consumer Electronics Show, amidst all the buzz over flexible screens and paper-thin displays, Microsoft produced this short entitled “Productivity Future Vision”.

In addition to showcasing their Window Phone (shameless!), the video also features display glasses, “smart” windows, self-driving cars, 3D display technology, virtual interfacing, paper-thin and flexible display tablets, touchscreens, teleconferencing, and a ton of internet browsing and wireless connectivity. All of the technologies featured are those that are currently under development, so the video is apt in addition to being visually appealing.

But of course, the real purpose of this video is to demonstrating to the world that Microsoft can bring these technologies and build the future of business, travel, education and play. Or at the very least, they seeks to lay their claim to a good portion of it. It’s Microsoft, people, they didn’t get to being a mega-corporation by writing checks or playing nice.

And based on this video, what can be said about the future? All in all, it looks a lot like today, only with a lot more bells and whistles!