Flexible electronic display will get Army field test
The Army this year is expected to receive a working prototype of a device that can be worn by soldiers. Advantages of plastic screens include being lighter and less fragile than glass.
By Brandon Bailey
February 21, 2011
Reporting from San Jose ó
Later this year, Hewlett-Packard Co. researchers say, they expect to deliver to the U.S. Army a working prototype of what they're calling a Dick Tracy wristwatch ó a lightweight, wearable device that soldiers in the field can use to view digital maps and other data on a flexible plastic screen that won't shatter or crack like glass.
Although it will be Spartan by design, researchers say HP's prototype could be one of the first in a wave of products incorporating flexible electronic displays. Freed from the constraints of a rigid-glass screen, designers could one day build flexible plastic displays into clothing, wall coverings and perhaps even e-readers or tablets that can roll up like a newspaper.
"You can start thinking about putting electronic displays on things where you wouldn't ordinarily think of having them," said Nick Colaneri, a scientist and director of the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University. "How about a stack of thin displays that I can peel off and stick on things, sort of like a pad of Post-It notes?"
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Long before those hit the market, however, flexible plastic displays will provide tablets, smart phones and other portable computers with big screens that weigh less and are far more durable than today's models, said Carl Taussig, director of advanced display research at HP Labs in Palo Alto.
"Unlike glass, plastic doesn't break when you drop it on the floor," said Taussig, whose employer has a vested interest in electronic displays as the world's biggest seller of personal computers.
Experts have long predicted a big future for flexible displays. The Defense Department has funded efforts to develop lightweight screens that soldiers can use in hostile environments. A host of computer makers and electronics companies are working on commercial applications.