Lighting the way

A UK specialist in electroluminescent (EL) technology has teamed up with Cambridge University in a bid to produce a new ‘hybrid’ electronic display that would be visible in all lighting conditions.

Pelikon, which develops printed segment EL displays for use on consumer devices such as watches and remote control handsets, said the 18-month project aims to create an entirely new category of electronic display.

The Cambridge company hopes to combine its EL know-how with the university’s expertise in liquid crystal displays to produce a hybrid system that both emits and reflects light.

In what it claimed would be a world first, the joint team will work on technology for a flexible display on a single substrate combining a polymer liquid crystal layer and a thick-film EL light-emitting layer.

The commercial result would be a thin flat-panel display driven by a single electronic drive circuit that is visible in all ambient lighting.

Pelikon’s chief technical officer Chris Fryer said applications for the hybrid system would be widespread, potentially removing the need for LED backlighting and opening the way for new classes of displays on mobile phones and dashboards.

‘We have done early investigative work, and with input from the university’s specialists we are very much moving into applied research. This is not a blue sky project — we’re looking to be into production in 18 months.’

Pelikon has extensive experience of applying segmented EL displays to consumer devices. Its highest-profile product so far is a multi-function remote handset capable of controlling devices such as videos, DVDs and CD players from a single unit.

The segmented display allows only the controls needed for a particular device to be displayed at any given time. Fryer said the hybrid display would allow similar developments to be applied to devices used outdoors, where bright sunlight makes displays hard to view. An obvious application is mobile phone keypads, which could use the technology to display only the symbols relevant for any particular operational mode.

Fryer said preliminary discussions with mobile phone manufacturers had confirmed their interest in the concept. ‘It is clear there is a market for this,’ he said.

University of Cambridge