New Year, New Innovations

Happy New Year, New Innovations

by Stephen P. Atwood

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Happy New Year and welcome to 2014.  We saw a lot of exciting things in 2013, including a near miss with an asteroid, confirmation of water on Mars, more record-breaking weather here on earth, and the further embedding of technology in our daily lives.  The display industry saw encouraging signs of better economic times to come and more new innovations than I can remember seeing in a long time.

Of course, as I wrote about in November, we finally saw the commercial launch of large-format OLED TVs.  This much anticipated milestone was an important vindicating step for those companies that have invested so much in research, development, and infrastructure to get products into consumers’ hands.  But if you followed along in ID for the past year, OLED TVs were only one small part of a great many advances we saw and reported on.  We also saw our first Display Week event held outside the U.S., in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – which also happened to be our 50th SID Symposium and Exhibition.  I did not attend all 50, but I’ve probably been to at least half of them by now.  Vancouver was a great destination and San Diego will be just as much fun with even more new things to see and do.

This year begins our second with the new six-issue calendar.  The amount of great contributions from all over the display industry continues to grow and our backlog continues to grow too.  We try to pick the very best topics from everything we see, and some become running themes we cover for many issues or even across multiple years.  As we look into 2014, we are anticipating a variety of interesting topics, including our regulars such as touch/interactivity, LCDs and OLEDs, metrology, materials, and flexible displays.  We also expect to see more great advances in some recent hot topics such as 3D/holography, oxide semiconductors, and paper electronics.  Our full calendar for 2014 is available on the Web site.

Our issue themes this month revolve around materials, flexible displays, and e-paper.  By now you have probably already noticed something different about this first issue of 2014.  Our cover features one of the most interesting creatures in nature – the cuttlefish.  Why, you ask, would we feature a rather strange looking mollusk on our cover and what does it have to do with displays?  Well, we were asking ourselves the same question until we read the first draft of our cover story, “Dynamic Displays in Nature,” by authors Lydia M. Mäthger and Roger T. Hanlon from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Cuttlefish, squid, and octopus belong to a class of cephalopods that are able to change the pattern and color of their skin in remarkable ways for both camouflage and communication.  Similar to chameleons, these creatures have biological mechanisms in their bodies that allow their skin to literally be a type of display.  As we search for new and innovative ways to create flexible displays, there may be many exciting things we can learn from nature, and this article reveals the secrets of how these intricate biological skin-displays really work.

It’s not a new concept, borrowing from nature for cues for display research.  Countless optical and material science discoveries have been based on observations of the natural world.  One example is the principle for Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) displays developed by Qualcomm, which is based on the same natural phenomenon that makes a butterfly’s wings or a peacock’s feathers shimmer and reflect the sun’s light into highly diverse and saturated colors.  So, it’s really no surprise that we may someday make displays with the same principal methods as nature has been doing for eons.  I’m sure you will enjoy this article and we are very grateful to the authors for working with us.

Our next Frontline Technology feature, titled “Intrinsically Elastomeric Polymer Light Emitting Devices,” by authors Jiajie Liang and Qibing Pei, examines the research work conducted at UCLA to develop transparent flexible polymer OLED (PLED) displays that can not only be rolled up but can, in fact, tolerate being stretched thousands of times and still retain their essential functional properties.  These are high-luminance PLED displays on flexible and stretchable conductive backplanes that very nearly mimic human skin-like properties but also include transparency.  This is very interesting and significant work that deserves recognition – I’m pleased we were able to bring this to you.

And while we’re discussing “skin,” we also have a very interesting Frontline Technology story exploring various materials and flexible electronic structures to produce what the authors refer to as “Imperceptible Electronic Skin.”  Reporting on a variety of recent achieve- ments at the University of Tokyo, authors Tsuyoshi Sekitani, Martin Kaltenbrunner, Tomoyuki Yokota, and Takao Someya talk about their vision for artificial electronic skin that can be used either for robots with human-like senses or for prosthetics on humans that can extend our current abilities to feel and sense our environments.  I’m sure you will find their work both interesting and thought provoking as well.  It reminds me again of so many times when I feel like science and science fiction are converging.

Our cover story, along with the following two features I introduced, were all developed for us this month by our Guest Editor Jason Heikenfeld.  Jason is a frequent contributor to ID and his insight and imagination are highly valued here. Once again, we thank him for his efforts and encourage you to read his guest editor’s note, “On the Frontlines of Innovation: Inspiration for ‘Skin-Like’ Displays.”

Our Display Marketplace feature this month comes from Veronica Thayer, who is a consumer-electronics and technology analyst for IHS.  We are very excited to have IHS on board with ID as another member of our contributing analyst team.  It is through the generosity of their efforts that we are able to present a snapshot of the business side of displays each month.  In this month’s feature, “Fewer U.S. Consumers Interested in Buying New TVs,” Veronica talks about the ups and downs of this marketplace, and the shift from conventional TVs for viewing broadcast content to smart TVs and so-called “second-screens” like tablets, and the growth of on-demand Internet streaming content.  One thing I found particularly interesting in her report was that the percentage of consumers purchasing a TV in the past year was nearly twice as high among tablet owners.  Also, tablet owners showed a clear preference for bigger screen sizes, with 49% of tablet owners preferring a 40–49-in. screen size.  To me, this says that the traditional fear of second screens eroding the TV market is probably not true but, in fact, a variety of other much more complex dynamics are actually at work in this marketplace.  Still, it’s a tough market out there and at the time of this writing we do not yet know how the holiday season sales are breaking down.

Turning to the subject of OLEDs, we have our next Frontline Technology feature, “Applying OLEDs in a Manufacturing Process,” contributed by Kai Gilge, Ansgar Werner, and Sven Murano from Novaled.  In this feature, we learn about the important considerations for display manufacturing with OLED materials and some of the key process parameters that must be understood to achieve good success.  We like to hear about about the manufacturing aspects of OLED technology, so I was very pleased when we saw this article proposal come our way.

Another interesting application that is driving demand for advanced materials research is haptics technology.  Defined by our friends at Wikipedia as “… any form of non-verbal communication involving touch,” haptics really encompasses all those important considerations when you create real-life user interface devices such as the audible and physical feedback of a keyboard and the feel of the environmental controls on the dashboard of your car.

Smartphones and tablets require a smooth front glass surface, which severely limits the types of physical feedback mechanisms you can achieve when using the virtual keyboards.  However, recently, companies have begun developing methods to augment that front surface and the most recent effort involves something called Electro-Mechanical Polymers (EMPs), which are described this month in our Frontline Technology feature titled “New Electro-Mechanical Polymer Actuator Technology for Better Interactivity” from Dr. Christophe Ramstein and Ausra Liaukeviciute from Novasentis.  These new materials allow the user to feel tiny local vibrations, simulating the tactile response of a mechanical keyboard.  They can be used in a variety of applications that may eventually include transparent touch screens.

These two features on OLEDs and EMPs were developed for us by our guest editor Ion Bita, who talks about the landscape of materials research in his guest editorial, “Momentum for Materials.”  As Ion notes, both OLED and touch-technology applications are significant drivers for further materials research and development today.  We thank Ion for his great effort in bringing these features to us for this issue.

We are pleased once again to bring you another chapter in Helge Seetzen’s continuing saga on how to get rich quick with your own startup company.  OK, so if you have been reading this series so far you know that’s not even close to what he’s really saying.  The process of creating a technology company, getting venture capital funding, building a successful technology business, and nurturing it to maturity takes extreme dedication, careful planning, lots of luck, and assistance from many seasoned professionals.  This month, Helge explores that long sought-after and highly elusive goal, “Exiting with Grace – and Profit.”  It’s not easy, but it is possible under the right circumstances to actually make a profit and move on from your venture with something to show for all your hard work.  I’m sure you will find this latest installment another exciting part of this great series.

And so, as the holiday season winds down and we start to look forward again, I wish you all the very best personal and professional success in 2014.  •