By Mark Halper
Posting in Architecture
The motto could be 'let's get together and bend.' Holland's collaborative Holst Centre fuses industry and academic R&D. It's developing pliable OLEDs. Hello foldable smartphones! Won't Samsung win?
Holland's Holst Centre, a collaborative research lab that brings together industry and academia, has launched a program to develop low-cost, energy efficient flexible screens that could usher in the era of bendable, rollable smartphones and PCs.
Holst plans to demonstrate prototypes this year of new screens based on organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), which are swatches of material that emit light went excited by a current.
"The primary objective of the new program is to develop an economically scalable route to high-volume manufacturing of flexible active-matrix OLED displays," Holst states in a recent press release.
Manufacturers already use rigid OLEDs in some high-end smartphones and tablet PCs. A flexible material would permit radical new form factors in gadgets - everything from screens that roll out of devices to PCs that fold into your pocket.
But no one has yet perfected a mass-produced a flexible screen. Samsung has said it hopes to deliver a foldable phone early this year, followed quickly by a bendy tablet PC. That would put them well ahead of Holst, if they actually deliver.
Curiously, Samsung is a Holst partner, so possibly it plans to deploy its own advances before sharing with others - if it's sharing its OLED knowledge at all. (Makes you wonder just how "collaborative" collaborative is. Collaborators do compete against each other, after all). Holst runs other development projects in addition to OLEDs.
Holst's press release infers that a number of challenges remain before flexible OLEDs hit the big time.
"New materials and processes that allow for cheaper production, better quality, lower power, more robustness and more flexibility will be developed," it states.
The "lower power" hurdle is notable. It suggests flexible OLEDs do not now offer the same inherent energy advantage as standard, non-organic LEDs (or that they would eat up a cell phone battery quickly). Light bulbs built on LED chips require only about 20 percent of the electricity of traditional light bulbs. Non-organic LEDs emit pointed light from a semiconductor.
"We could really pull this off because of intense collaboration with some of our industrial partners," Paul Heremans, manager of Holst's OLED display program says in the release. "We will demonstrate some of these display prototypes in 2012."
Eindhoven-based Holst was set up in 2005 with support from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in former N.V. Philips facilities, and has about 30 cross-industrial partners including Samsung, Philips, Panasonic, Olympus, BASF, DuPont, Huntsman, AGFA, Merck, Bayer and others. It's named after Gilles Holst, the first director of Philips Research.
In addition to gadgets, flexible OLEDs also augur radical innovations in architecture, construction and fashion, as designers build light sources into the fabric of buildings, furniture and clothing. Siemens recently announced improvements in the efficiency of an OLED ribbon intended less as a gadget screen, and more as a light.
With so many OLED advancements and research programs materializing, it is starting to look as though the days of folding phones and "light sofas" could indeed be just around the bend.
Photos from High Tech Campus Eindhoven
More positively pliant stories on SmartPlanet:
- Car's 'glass' roof by day becomes interior light at night. Oh OLEDs!
- Roll up the iPad: Siemens advances the flexible screen
- Video: Watch this Samsung flexible tablet PC unfold
- Eye candy: Glow-in-the-dark surfing
- Samsung eyes flexible gadget screens by early 2012
- Nokia toys with flexible smartphones you can bend and twist [video]
Feb 6, 2012
In the mid-80's there was a company producing flexible displays (transistor on plastic I think,) whose target market was fighter heads-up displays--they continued to work after being shot. I don't know what happened to them, but I designed a tablet around the idea that a tablet should handle exactly like a paper notepad. Inspired by the Osbourne interior design (which mounted everything on flexible plastic boards.) The basic idea was that components would be connected to each other in 3D w/o boards (though flexible circuit boards would give much of the same functionality.) The entire unit would be put on a flexible, clear circuit layer, which would be folded to put all the layers together, then cast in silicone. Tablets would communicate with each other in an as hoc network, and share processing time as it was available. They would be solar powered, have a lot of different cheap sensors. The operational spec was "I should be able to drop it in the slush in front of a bius, have the bus run over it, then be wiped off and used (telling you what the bus weighed.) Like a video game, it would have an 'attract' mode in which it would demonstrate it's capabilities, running only when someone came near & the mode was active" Couldn't do it then, but thses days a video capability would be added. They used IR to network as well as radio. Never financed or prototyped, I've been waiting a long time for a device I could treat like a pad or paperback book (stiff readers really hate being sat upon or dropped And for all that time, the best that came out were stiff, fragile, devices. We had compared the Osbourne and the Kaypro--opposite design philosophies. An Osbourne was light, and durable because as well as flexible mount, the case flexed and tgher were large gaps between the components and the sides. It was light enough to be "civilian" portable. It survived like a tree does, by bending with whatever force impacted it--and the insides shook like Jello. Because it was blow-molded and most of the physical parts were plastic, it was cheap to produce. The Kaypro was the opposite. A metal frame, metal skin, components ridgedly fixed to the frame. It was heavy "Military" portable, literally designed like a tank. If you dropped it, it survived by being the most ridged thing around--you were likely to damage the floor if you dropped. It was expensive. Rolling across a street, hit by a car at 25mph, I believe the Osbourne might just bounce out of the way unharmed. A Kaypro in the same fix would probably damage the car. In Nature, most organics are flexible and go with the flow, this is mass and energy efficient. The idea of building things so ridged that they are invulnerable is mass inefficient (military shipping containers can weigh up to 100lbs empty....) It's much harder to build something ridged, which is why cars went from heavy stiff bumpers to plastic covers and crumple zones...easier to absorb energy than deflect it. Even active armor systems are more like a flexible surface than a solid resistance--it's an instantaneous surface, create just to hit by the single incoming round, but it can absorb energy rather than transfer it to the interior. Probably the most expensive VA costs over the next few decades will be the result of soldiers, whose helmets are designed to deflect solid particles, transmit nearly all of the energy from an explosion. The difference is like chainmail, which will stop an arrow or blade, but is worthless against a bludgeoning attack..