Flexible plastic screens edge closer to commercialization as Army, tech manufacturers collaborate with ASU

A plastic screen that rolls up and doesn’t crack when you drop it may sound like science fiction, but the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University is investing millions to liberate electronic devices from the constraints of rigid glass.

And reality could come sooner than you think.

The project was initiated by the U.S. Army in cooperation with a number of companies, including Boeing and Hewlett-Packard, to expedite the development of the technology.

“Flexible … black-and-white screens for e-readers are very close to commercialization,” said Nick Colaneri, Flexible Display Center director. Black-and-white screens are less complicated to create, and he estimates flexible screens capable of rolling up and displaying color images are three to five years away.

Manufacturers see vast potential for consumer applications. DisplaySearch, an industry research company, says the market for flexible screens will likely surpass $1 billion this year and reach $8.2 billion by 2018.

From the beginning, the project has been pushed along by the U.S. military, which is interested in flexible screens for their portability, durability and miserly use of power.

The military, high-tech manufacturers and academia have made Arizona ground zero for bringing the technology into mainstream use. They are pinpointing key materials and testing manufacturing techniques needed to make the sophisticated screens at the Flexible Display Center.

Colaneri, who has been director of the project for two years, said about $90 million has been spent on the project since the center was launched in 2004 under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army, and about $10 million more will be needed for completion.

Projects of this scale generally take at least 25 years to complete, Colaneri said. Even though flexible screens face manufacturing hurdles, because many companies have come together to collaborate, the process has been streamlined.

Carl Taussig, director of the information-surfaces lab at HP Labs, said, “If you can do it all yourself, it would be ideal. In practice, the risk-reward tradeoff does favor mitigation of the risk by defraying costs and tasks to partners. This also speeds the development, which is an increasingly important aspect in today’s marketplace.”

The development of color screens is highly coveted, because black-and-white screens typically show less detail.

Jennifer Colegrove, DisplaySearch vice president, believes the technology will be widely adopted, especially once it is available in color.

Because one of its hallmarks is its light weight, Colegrove believes the technology will find its greatest value in devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and laptops.

via Flexible plastic screens edge closer to commercialization as Army, tech manufacturers collaborate with ASU.

Gimme one of these and a roll up keyboard, and I’ll drool over smart phones. Not til then.

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