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://i0.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://i1.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

The Future is Here: Self-Healing Computer Chips

computer_chipIt’s one of the cornerstones of the coming technological revolution: machinery that can assemble, upgrade, and/or fix itself without the need for regular maintenance. Such devices would forever put an end to the hassles of repairing computers, replacing components, or having to buy new machines when something vital broke down. And thanks to researchers at Caltech, we now have a microchip that accomplish one of these feats: namely, fix itself.

The chip is the work of Ali Hajimiri and a group of Caltech researchers who have managed to create an integrated circuit that, after taking severe damage, can reconfigure itself in such a way where it can still remain functional. This is made possible thanks to a secondary processor that jumps into action when parts of the chip fail or become compromised. The chip is also able to tweak itself on the fly, and can be programmed to focus more on saving energy or performance speed.

computer_chip2In addition, the chip contains 100,000 transistors, as well as various sensors that give it the ability to monitor the unit’s overall health. Overall, the microchip is comparable to a power amplifier as well as a microprocessor, the kind of circuit that processes signal transmissions, such as those found in mobile phones, as well as carrying out complex functions. This combined nature is what gives it this self-monitoring ability and ensures that it can keep working where other chips would simply stop.

To test the self-healing, self-monitoring attributes of their design, Hajimiri and his team blasted the chip with a laser, effectively destroying half its transistors. It only took the microchip a handful of milliseconds to deal with the loss and move on, which is an impressive feat by any standard. On top of that, the team found that a chip that wasn’t blasted by lasers was able to increase its efficiency by reducing its power consumption by half.

healingchipGranted, the chip can only fix itself if the secondary processor and at least some of the parts remain intact, but the abilities to self-monitor and tweak itself are still of monumental importance. Not only can the chip monitor itself in order to provide the best possible performance, it can also ensure that it will continue to provide a proper output of data if some of the parts do break down.

Looking ahead, Hajimiri has indicated that the technology behind this self-healing circuit can be applied to any other kind of circuit. This is especially good news for people with portable computers, laptops and other devices who have watched them break down because of a hard bump. Not only would this save consumers a significant amount of money on repairs, replacement, and data recovery, it is pointing the way towards a future where embedded repair systems are the norm.

And who knows? Someday, when nanomachines and self-assembling structures are the norm, we can look forward to devices that can be totally smashed, crushed and shattered, but will still manage to come back together and keep working. Hmm, all this talk of secondary circuits and self-repairing robots. I can’t help but get the feeling we’ve seen this somewhere before…

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Sources: Extremetech.com, inhabitat.com

Cyberwars: The Credit Card Info Stealing App

theft_creditcard1Want to steal someone’s credit card information? There’s an App for that! Yes, it seems that smartphones are the latest tool in the identity and info thief’s arsenal, just a few years after it was reported that laptops were being used for to read people’s passports. And the worst part of it is, it can be done using a technology that is perfectly legal, and worse, was designed to make the life of consumers that much easier.

MasterCard calls the App PayPass, while Visa calls it payWave. Simply wave your credit card over a sensor and you’ve made a transaction, without the hassle of having to remember or enter a PIN number. But one of the unintended downsides is that it also makes it that much easier for a third party to steal your credit card information, and just as quickly and conveniently.

theft_creditcard3An investigative report was recently performed by CBC News and Mandy Woodland, a St. John’s lawyer who specializes in technology and privacy law. Using a Samsung Galaxy SIII, one of the most popular on the market today, the team downloaded a free app from the Google Play store to read information such as a card number, expiry date and cardholder name simply holding the smartphone over a debit or credit card.

According to their report, a thief can simply walk by, pause and read the information through an unwitting person’s coat and wallet, and then the information can be sent to another phone. The entire process only takes five minutes to download the App, and just seconds to obtain the credit card info. After conducting the process with a team members credit card, they used the stolen information to buy a coke.

??????????????Naturally, the process could be used to pay for gas, a new computer, or plane tickets to a vacation paradise! And as Woodlands said in an interview with CBC:

It’s always a concern when a stranger could obtain my personal information and my banking and financial information just from a simple walk by, particularly the fact that that worked so quickly.

Furthermore, Michael Legary, who runs a security company called Seccuris Inc., claims they have investigated cases where phones paired with these apps were used to commit credit card fraud. Legary also claims that the app has become a tool for organized crime in Europe:

They don’t even need to talk to you or touch you, they can get information about who you are. That may make you more of a target for certain types of crime.

theft_creditcardBut of course, credit card companies would like their clients not to worry. In a written statement, Visa claimed that there have been no reports of fraud perpetrated by reading its payWave cards, in the manner shown by the CBC. Citing the many layers of protection and identity security, Visa points to its record, which it claims shows historic lows of fraud. Mastercard similarly claimed that its customers are protected, specifically their MasterCard’s Zero Liability Policy. My only answer to that is, wait a while…

At the same time, Google has announced, in response to this investigation, that it would remove any app that violated Google’s developer distribution agreement or content policies. However, the app in question is still available on Google’s download site.

In conjunction with other forms of identity theft and RFID skimming, this latest revelation only adds to the growing concern that technologies which are designed for convenience are being abused to make our lives more harassed and insecure. It also raises an important issue about corporate security in the digital age.

Much like with internet security and hackers, there appears to be a constant back and forth between thieves and credit card companies, the one erecting more and more barriers of security and the other coming up with more elaborate ways to beat them. As for the rest of us, it seems we can only be vigilant. But if possible, it might be smart to purchase an Faraday pouch for your personal effects!

In the meantime, here is a demonstration of the credit card “skimming” at work.


Sources: CBC.ca, huffingtonpost.ca