Roll up for a vision of the future

Philips is setting up a new division to bring thin, roll-up display screens to the mass market.

The Dutch group is one of the world’s biggest investors in polymer electronics technology, which has the potential to create a new generation of flexible displays for mobile IT and telecoms equipment.

Philips said it had now reached a stage in the development of both the materials and display image quality at which commercial application becomes a realistic prospect.

The company’s new division is called Polymer Vision and its aim will be to refine the technology further and develop a process for manufacturing the displays in high volumes. Philips has the facilities to make 5,000 roll-up displays a year, but wants to establish a full-scale pilot production line.

The Philips system uses arrays of polymer-based, thin-film transistors (TFTs) that harness the unique properties of certain organic materials to generate coloured light. Researchers have discovered that these materials, called organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs), can be controlled and used to create colour images.

Philips was one of a number of companies to spot the early potential of OLEDs and begin developing the electronic systems needed to support them.

The company has been working with E Ink, a US developer of reflective ‘electronic ink’ designed to replicate the visual qualities of paper when used with the new breed of flexible displays.

Other companies carrying out R&D in the area include Kodak and the UK’s Cambridge Display Technology – one of the pioneers of OLEDs from their earliest days in the university laboratory. Philips has built what it claims is the thinnest and most flexible display yet achieved. It combines a 25-micron polymer electronics-based back plane with a 200 micron front plane made of reflective E ink.The display contains about 80,000 TFTs, which according to Philips makes it the largest of its type.

The company said it should eventually be possible to build displays large enough to function as an electronic newspaper, yet flexible enough to roll down to the size of a pen.

In a separate move, Philips and IBM have launched a joint initiative to develop RF-based smart cards. The two companies will develop systems for users in areas such as government, finance and event ticketing, combining Philips’ RF microchip technology with IBM’s IT infrastructure products.