AZ Tech and Innovation: Large Flexible Display

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The largest flexible color display has been developed by researchers at Arizona State University’s Flexible Display Center. The director of the center, Nick Colaneri, will talk about the 7.4 inch display.

Ted Simons: Tonight in our continuing coverage of Arizona technology and innovation, we take a look at the future of video displays. It's the world's largest flexible color organic light emitting display, and it's made right here in the valley at ASU. The 7.5 inch display was developed in conjunction with army research lab scientists for use in battlefield conditions. But that's only the beginning of the display's possible applications. Joining us now to talk about all this is Nick Colaneri, director of the ASU flexible display center. Thanks for joining us.

Nick Colaneri: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about exactly, this is the world's, why is the world's largest flexible display only 7.4 inches?

Nick Colaneri: It's pretty hard to make big advertise plays. You had small TVs before you had big TVs in your living room and the same is true for plastic displays.

Ted Simons: Full color, full motion, flexible video display. How do you make this? How do you do it?

Nick Colaneri: Display is a complicated sandwich. It's, the thing in your living room wall is a piece of glass. It's got some electronics on the glass and a bunch of other layers that perform different functions to create an image when you address it electronically. If we want to do that on plastic the first thing we have to figure identity how to do is put the electronics on plastic. That's what we have been doing at ASU, taking pieces of plastic and putting electronics on. What you see here is actually four of those video displays. And they would need several more layers to actually become the video display and then I have to add on a computer that drives the images and stuff.

Ted Simons: That bends. That's a big deal, isn't it?

Nick Colaneri: It is a big deal. And from the army's perspective, what's more important than bending if it's banged into it doesn't break like a piece of glass.

Ted Simons: Is this what this mixed oxide thin film, that's basically what that is?

Nick Colaneri: The mixed oxide is actually something that's brittle and would break. That's a semi-conductor material we make the electronics out of. So we get better performance in the electronics and LCD screen off that which is needed for that.

Ted Simons: As far as manufacturing this, how expensive are the materials? How much does it cost to make?

Nick Colaneri: Well, it's hard to answer the how much does it cost to make because there aren't factories making these things right now. What we have at ASU is effectively a manufacturing laboratory where we are working out the manufacturing process in miniature, full. And it's pretty expensive to do it that way. We have tried to engineer things so we are going to use the same equipment that the industry uses today, slight change in the materials, slight change in the processes to minimize the cost additions. All new technologies wind up costing more when they first come out, and this will be no exception. We are trying to get that down to maybe 10% more than the existing.

Ted Simons: The fact that you can use existing silicon production lines for much of this, that has to be a factor, doesn't it?

Nick Colaneri: That's a huge factor. That was a goal. We designed the process that way and that created some challenges but we want to be able to go to the guys that are manufacturing these things today, and say, we have got something you can just drop in and you get a different product out.

Ted Simons: How much power do they use?

Nick Colaneri: So we were attracted to OLED's, the technology available now in the Samsung galaxy phone because they use less power than LCD's. I came from a show in Boston and there are folks showing side by side comparisons.

Ted Simons: And I would imagine not nearly as warm as some LCD?

Nick Colaneri: They don't get as warm. Certainly. And we expect that power consumption to go down over time because we are still learning how to make the technology in the optimum way.

Ted Simons: We mention these were developed with army research lab scientists. What were they looking for? Talk about that particular collaboration.

Nick Colaneri: The army has funded the program. Arizona State University won a competition, almost 10 years ago, to have this sited here in the valley and what the army was looking for was a an industrial collaboration between universities and a lot of different industrial players to see if we could figure out how to do this. They want display that is don't break. Right now they use a lot of things that show information and if they need to stick a display in it they need to use a glass display so they have to ruggedize it, and that makes it heavier. And those things limit the number of devices they can use to track stuff they are using are for the information they need.

Ted Simons: That would be the application for battlefield conditions. What about commercial applications? Nonmilitary applications? What do you see there?

Nick Colaneri: I see a lot of interest. I always say I am not smart enough to figure out what the consumer applications are. What I found interesting at this industry conference was, in years gone by, I would be meeting engineers from Samsung or from Lucky Gold Star or from various defense contractors. This meeting I was talking to a lot of guys with business cards from Google, two young men showed up with badges that said Facebook, a company that, you know, last year wasn't even on the convention floor. I'm thinking, when you peel back the onion what's going on is the iPhone and the iPad have upset the ecosystem of the display industry. We no longer have silos and people that make software and people that make content. It's all been kind of mixed together. They are all still figuring that out and looking for jazzy new electronic solutions to help them create compelling consumer applications.

Ted Simons: Can you see these jazzy new applications? You got a kindle there. Something, can you see that kindle bending or an iPad bending in the near or distant future?

Nick Colaneri: I think, kindle, that's why I brought these along. This is a technology that's further along. This is my kindle. The kindle has a hard glass screen.

Ted Simons: Sure.

Nick Colaneri: If I stick this in my coat pocket and bang on it, I'm probably going to break it. The first thing we did was to figure out how to make that on plastic. This is the same screen in a kindle but it's bendable. There's a factory in Taiwan gearing up to make these right now. Now, at first they just want to make thinner kindles that don't break in your backpack. They are certainly thinking about kindles you can fold.

Ted Simons: When you said that, that would be, that's the thickness of it?

Nick Colaneri: This is the thickness of the display.

Ted Simons: That's it.

Nick Colaneri: That's it.

Ted Simons: That's like a card.

Nick Colaneri: That's right.

Ted Simons: That's nothing compared to what we are seeing now.

Nick Colaneri: That's exactly what we are thinking about. The electronics, the thickness of a credit card.

Ted Simons: The consumer applications are -- and its possibilities I would think -- no wonder these Facebook and Google guys are there. Goodness gracious. The flexible display center at ASU was this developed and is this in conjunction specifically for this particular project?

Nick Colaneri: It is specifically for this project. Although, of course, at Arizona state, we like to think bigger than that. We are looking at how can we leverage the opportunity to help the army with a problem to create a completely new environment for engineering, for educating folks who have to work in a different, globalized environment, and the way the display industry works is a very complex ecosystem. We are also looking for economic development opportunities here in the phoenix area. There are a lot of things that go into a display that don't involve having a factory. Materials, tools for making things.

Ted Simons: Yeah. I think you got something here. How big a breakthrough is this? Bottom line, how big is this?

Nick Colaneri: I think it's a pretty big deal. It's always hard to make predictions in consumer electronics because you don't know what's going to catch people's fancy but I can tell you by the kinds of phone calls I've been getting I think this that is has excited people's imaginations.

Ted Simons: Thanks for the information.

Nick Colaneri: Pleasure being here.

Nick Colaneri:Director of Flexible Display Center, Arizona State University;

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