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University develops 'first' flexible touchscreen

Posted: 26 Feb 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flexible touchscreen  active-matrix display  plastic backplane  glass touchscreens 

Arizona State University's Flexible Display Centre (FDC), and its military and industry partners have unveiled what it claims as the first flexible touchscreen integrated with an active-matrix display. The light-weight device is initially headed for the battlefield.

Based on active-matrix electrophoretic display technology from E-Ink Corp., the new flexible touchscreen uses materials supplied by DuPont Teijin Films, which manufacturers the plastic used as a substitute for glass in conventional touchscreens.

"Our displays have always been flexible, but so far the touchscreens have been glass, which are not rugged enough for many applications," said Sri Peruvemba, E-Ink's VP of marketing. "Now we have a partner that can build a flexible touchscreen to match our flexible display."

Glass touchscreens can only be used when securely enclosed in a hard-shell housing. For future commercial applications like e-newspapers, however, a more durable flexible touchscreen is needed that would allow users to navigate using on-screen icons, then roll up the e-paper for carrying and storage.

 Flexible displays will eventually be used with full-colour technologies for paper-thin displays that bend and flex.

Flexible displays will eventually be used with full-colour technologies for paper-thin displays that bend and flex.

"Now that our whole device can be made flexible, it should also enable larger-sized touchscreens for electronic newspapers, textbooks and other larger format applications," said Peruvemba.

Amorphous silicon thin-film transistors were fabricated on DuPont's flexible Teonex polyethylene napthalate substrate. The assembly drives E-Ink's active-matrix electrophoretic displays.

"There are three distinct elements: the E-Ink Visplex display, the plastic backplane and the touchscreen—the integration of which is the result of a collaboration between the FDC, DuPont Teijin Films and E-Ink," said Shawn O'Rourke, director of engineering at FDC.

Inductive technology allows users to touch the screen with a finger or a stylus. Like E-Ink's display, the touchscreen consumes power only when its contents are being changed. In writing mode, information sketched on the display can be stored, then erased.

Designed to be sufficiently rugged for use on the battlefield, the display also is extremely thin compared to traditional glass touchscreens. The paper-thin display should reduce soldiers' load, and its low power consumption eliminates the need for a heavy Li-ion battery used with ordinary LCD-based laptop computer displays.

"Besides ruggedness, weight was a major concern for the military," said Peruvemba.

The U.S. military will be an early user of the flexible touchscreen technology, but Peruvemba predicted that manufacturing costs will drop once consumer applications are tapped. FDC estimates that the technology is as little as 18 months away from commercialisation.

Funded by a 10-year agreement with the U.S. Army starting in 2004, the ASU display centre works with over 20 industry partners and operates pilot manufacturing lines for rapid prototyping of flexible display technologies. Investors in E-Ink Corp. include Toppan Printing Co., Hearst Corp., Intel Capital, Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and Motorola Inc.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times





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