Bend it, shape it

A consortium of 20 European electronics companies and universities is to pool its resources in an attempt to cherry-pick the most promising flexible display technologies.

The FlexiDis project will research and develop the materials and processes needed to produce high-performance flexible displays, and investigate their commercial applications.

The consortium, which has e26m (£18m) in funding, includes Philips Research, Plastic Logic, STMicroelectronics, BMW, Nokia, Lego and the University of Cambridge.

The majority of the research effort will go into creating flexible, low-power electronic paper for newspapers and books using plastic thin film transistors (TFTs), and developing a ‘video-photograph’, a paper-thin, flexible, full-colour video display based on silicon TFTs.

By bringing together technology specialists with electronics manufacturers and those likely to use the devices within their products, the consortium hopes to develop displays that offer the greatest potential for commercial success, said Dr Eliav Haskal, FlexiDis project coordinator and principal scientist at Philips Research.

‘The idea isn’t to make a single prototype and then bend it until it cracks, we want to make sure we make the correct set of prototypes and then develop the industrial equipment to bring the most likely type of flexible display to the market.

‘We want to look at the application of these technical demonstrators in a range of flexible mediums, from a simple flat display that doesn’t break if you drop it, to something like a completely rollable display, or one that is two-dimensionally bent,’ he said.

The bendable e-paper will be based on electrophoretic materials laminated on to plastic substrates containing plastic electronics. ‘This technology represents a particularly good opportunity for Europe,’ said Haskal. The organic materials used in plastic electronics are inkjet printable, meaning they could be produced using advanced rapid prototyping technologies that would not require the economies of scale needed to make silicon chip fabrication plants cost-effective. ‘That is manufacturing we could do in Europe, and there is a tremendous market for this type of display.’

The video-photograph will be based on organic LED materials deposited on metal or plastic foils, using silicon TFTs. ‘Once the display effect is integrated on to these types of active matrix backplanes to make demonstrator displays, we will begin looking at the bending and reliability of these types of displays and backplanes,’ said Haskal.

The researchers will then work with companies such as Nokia to investigate how flexible displays can be integrated into their products, by developing mock-ups and eventually working devices incorporating the FlexiDis prototypes.

The project is partly funded under the EU’s Sixth Framework programme as part of the Information Society Technologies priority.