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Silver nanowire enables next-gen touchscreen products

Posted: 17 Apr 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Silver nanowire  touchscreen  wearable  flexible electronics 

Thanks to silver nanowires, it is now possible to cost-effectively shift to next-generation flexible and wearable devices, as well as to other products conceivable.

It's no secret that wearable electronics are becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Designers once struggled to make hard, flat products like notebooks and tablets survive frequent wear and tear. These problems have largely been overcome, but wearable products are another game. The good news is that flexibility—a desirable feature of things being attached to humans—is being significantly enabled by a leap forward in materials like silver nanowire for touch-enabled products.

Silver nanowires

Silver nanowires (greatly magnified)

Who's using silver nanowire?

You will likely recognise some of the names that are already using silver nanowire-based touchscreens because they've been adopted as the transparent-conductor-of-choice by leading industry heavyweights, including Hitachi, LG, TPK, Nissha, 3M, Okura and many others.

Wearability = flexibility

What is already here in personal computing devices, in addition to mind-boggling electronics size reduction, is wearability. Making that happen means the human interface must radically evolve. Brittle glass is out. Flexible electronics and interfaces are in. They provide enhanced portability and durability, and also provide virtually unlimited design flexibility. Flexible touch displays essentially equate to flexible ergonomics. Imagine unbreakable phone screens that flex instead of shattering when dropped. Consider folding a seven-inch tablet so it slips into your pocket. How about a display that wraps around your arm? Or what about a huge public display wrapping around a pillar or a building like neon lighting can? We are driving towards products like these, and these products are creating increasing demand for flexible, bendable, and rollable touch screens. As more product designers become aware of silver nanowire touch displays, we'll be seeing more insanely great new products.

Consumer electronic devices that are coming won't look like yesterday's clunky boxes. Tablets and laptops are increasingly thinner, and even monitors and kiosks are becoming sleek and aesthetically pleasing. In turn, this is driving the demand for thinner, lighter components. Apart from anything else, electronic components with reduced mass tend to be more rugged and durable.

The flexibility of silver nanowires—along with their transmission and conductive properties—are enablers for an array of existing and forthcoming electronic displays and consumer wearables, as well as IoT inventions for as-yet unimagined applications.

Cambrios laboratory

The Cambrios laboratory where new materials like state-of-the-art silver nanowires are created.

Brighter, stronger, more sensitive, lower power...

There are several factors that make silver nanowires a material ideally suited to new products for the "touch age." Let's start by noting that touchscreens should be thin, light, visible in various ambient light conditions, highly responsive and—perhaps most importantly—lower-cost.

The most popular touchscreen technology is projected capacitance, or pro-cap. At the core is a transparent conductor—a layer of material that needs to conduct electricity while remaining transparent so as to allow light from the underlying display to shine through the screen. Indium tin oxide (ITO), the legacy conductor material, is neither very conductive nor transparent compared with silver nanowires. It's also too brittle for flexible display and touch applications.

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