The First Days of Spring

The First Days of Spring

by Stephen P. Atwood

Spring is here, and along with the warming of the weather comes a very busy season for our industry.  It started with CES in January, when we saw a significant number of new display achievements and continues through May, when we all come together for the annual Display Week gathering – the largest and most complete convergence of display-industry activities in the world.  In between these two, we see many local and regional events (such as the China Display Conference and the Electronic Displays Conference in Germany), all warming us up for Display Week.  This year, the big show is in beautiful San Francisco beginning on May 22 and spanning the entire week with short courses, seminars, business and market focus conferences, the International Symposium, some great keynotes, and the world-class Display Week Exhibition.  If you have not yet made your plans to visit, it’s time!

We will talk more about Display Week shortly, but first let me discuss our technical focus for this issue, which is flexible displays – an area of R&D that is bringing a lot of promising new capabilities to the marketplace.  We have already seen curved and flexible displays in numerous consumer products – generally packaged as rigid or mildly flexible solutions such as a phone that will not break if you put it in your back pocket and sit on it.  We have also seen a myriad of curved LCD (and a few OLED) TV-size screens shown and sold commercially.  So, the concept is becoming more main stream, but a display that you can literally roll up or fold up still eludes us.  Thanks to important product segments such as wearables and tablet computers, there is no shortage of commercial interest in the ultimate flexible-display solution.

We start off this month with three excellent Frontline Technology articles that address critical building blocks toward achieving true flexibility, for which we thank our terrific guest editor Ruiqing (Ray) Ma from Universal Display Corp.  I recommend that you start by reading Ray’s guest editorial titled “Flexible Displays Come in Many Forms” to get his perspective on the context for these three key articles.  Then jump right in to enjoy “Enabling Wearable and Other Novel Applications through Flexible TFTs” by Antonio Facchetti and his colleagues at Polyera, whose work in organic electronics has yielded organic TFT backplanes capable of near-endless bending.  Their concept product, the “Wove Band,” is literally a wearable rectangular wristband with an electrophoretic display and touch screen along the entire length.  You put it on just like a bracelet and it functions like a smartwatch and small tablet at the same time.  The concept is fairly compelling on its own, but I really think the story is in the underlying work they have done to further the commercial viability of organic backplanes.

Next, we offer an article by Jin Jang from the Department of Information Display at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, Korea, titled “Bulk-Accumulation Oxide-TFT Backplane Technology for Flexible and Rollable AMOLEDs: Part I.”  The story here is, of course, the goal of achieving flexible TFT backplanes with enough current-switching ability to support OLED pixels.  Normally, this is done with multiple high-mobility TFTs, but Dr. Jang and his team have developed a dual-gate bulk-accumulation TFT using n-type amorphous-indium-gallium-zinc-oxide (a-IGZO).  The advantages of this over single-gate TFTs are clearly stated as “…drain current that is over three times larger, turn-on voltage that is closer to 0 V, smaller sub-threshold voltage swing, better device-to-device uniformity, and better bias and light stability…”  Because he and his team gave us so much important information about their work, we asked Dr. Jang to help us make this a two-part article.  This first part talks about the underlying device physics and the achievements on test devices so far.  The second part, coming in a few months, will describe work on process engineering and the creation of demonstration flexible OLED displays.

Our third feature, appropriately titled “Flexible AMOLED Displays Make Progress,” by Annie Tzuyu Huang and her colleagues at AU Optronics, addresses some of the critical challenges to encapsulating OLED materials in a flexible construction and hence achieving rollable and bendable active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) displays.  She also includes a discussion of key optical considerations such as flexible circular polarizers for contrast enhancement and then describes some of the recent achievements of AUO to achieve high-contrast full-color bendable displays.

Given what we read this month, and adding in some of our flexible and touch coverage from the January and July 2015 issues (remember the robot at the Golden Gate Bridge?), you can start to build a vision for how this all ties together into a new paradigm of truly wearable electronics with displays in every form factor imaginable.  I would encourage you to look back at those issues in our on-line archives, and imagine for yourself where this can rapidly start to go.  By the way, now that we have many issues in our archives stretching all the way back to 1964, you can literally research the evolution of flexible displays or any other similar aspect of display technology from inception to the present day.  One of the reasons the archiving process is taking so long is that I am slowly reading through much of what we are scanning, and it is fascinating.  Where we have come from and how much has been achieved in our industry is just as important as what we now have in front of us to work with.

This, by no accident, brings me to the next important topic for this issue – the announcement of the annual SID Honors and Awards, which encompass several very prestigious prizes and categories of recognition.  Each year, the Society for Information Display honors those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of displays.  Each one of our honorees has dedicated a long period of professional work to achieving unique and innovative milestones.  In many cases, the outcome of their efforts has been woven into prominent products we use and enjoy every day without directly realizing the contributions of these key innovators.  If you look closely at our archives, you will see their work appears in articles describing technological advances step by step, year by year.  At least three of this year’s honorees have been contributing authors and/or recent guest editors for Information Display as well.  We are all extremely grateful for their contributions to the industry and extend to them a hearty congratulations.  Read “SID’s Best and Brightest” for 2016, by Jenny Donelan, and you will see these are people who lead by example and continue to give so much back to help fuel our industry not only today but for future generations to come.

I mentioned CES in the beginning of the editorial, referring to the annual Consumer Electronics show that has become an important first-look at what many new displays and display-centric products will look like in the year ahead.  This year we asked frequent contributor Ken Werner to report back for us on what was noteworthy.  Ken gave us a great Show Review article titled “Ten Intriguing Display Discoveries from CES 2016,” which included several flexible and curved examples, including the headline-making LG rollable 18-in. OLED prototype.  As Ken explains, this was not a carefully preserved protected laboratory specimen but instead a fully functioning open-air demonstration of a 1200 × 810-pixel AMOLED display that could be repeatedly rolled to a radius of as small as 3 cm and still survive.  This and many other equally important items made up Ken’s top ten list, which I’m sure you will find as interesting as I did.

Another story that came out of CES, for at least the second year, is the growing importance of automotive “technology,” including many new themes for incorporating displays into cabins.  This is an exciting trend for me because I know how long the hard-core automotive-display folks have been working on ways to get digital dashboards into cars.  It is felt like a strange tug of war in which automobile manufacturers have wanted to incorporate new display concepts, but at the same time have shied away from things more radical than the center console backup camera and navigation screens commonly incorporated today.  But the wind is definitely, finally (sigh), blowing harder in favor of more comprehensive ideas for digital dashboards and head-up displays – supported at last by a wider variety of form factors and technologies available to car manufacturers, including flexible displays.

This important display trend has been recognized and nurtured not only at CES but also by SID at Display Week.  SID’s involvement with vehicle displays goes back many years.  The SID Detroit Metro chapter has been holding a regional Vehicle Displays Conference for 24 years.  Last year, in our show issue of Information Display, we provided significant coverage of the current state of the art and hot topics in vehicle displays.  Once again, this year, the special focus topics at Display Week include vehicle displays, along with augmented and virtual reality, digital-signage display solutions, lighting, TFTs and display circuits on flexible substrates, vehicle displays and user-interface technology trends, and wearable displays.  These key topics are represented not only in the exhibit hall but also in the incredible array of technical papers being presented at the SID Symposiumportion of the program.

To create our Symposium Preview titled “Emergence and Convergence Highlight This Year’s Technical Symposium,” Jenny Donelan interviewed the Symposium program subcommittee chairs and asked them to highlight the most significant trends in their subject areas.  What she reports is one of the best lineups I think I have ever seen for the Symposium.  In short, when people say something is a “don’t-miss” event, you generally expect it is an exaggeration.  In this case, the term almost feels like an understatement.  While the Symposium is just one part of the full (some would say too full) program of Display Week, I think it is an undeniable barometer for the future trends of the industry.  Whether your focus is technical, marketing, or management, you cannot be a leader in our industry without looking closely at what’s inside the Symposium papers and who is represented in the presentations.  So, I would strongly urge you to block off the time and make your plans to attend all of Display Week, not just the exhibits and not just for a single day.  You will not be disappointed.

One of the companies that has had a significant presence in SID through the years is quantum-dot (QD) innovator QD Vision.  QD Vision is based in Massachusetts (as I am) and I have had the privilege to hear them present their technology several times at New England chapter meetings, where they have always been a generous supporter of our local events.  Recently, QD Vision has been part of the exciting emergence of QD-enhanced backlights for LCDs, and the company has become a leading player in that application.  To get an inside look on their progress, Information Display contacted QD Vision’s new CEO Mustafa Ozgen and persuaded him to sit down for a Q&A session.  We learned some interesting things about the company’s history, current activities, and future plans.  We also got Mustafa to comment on the debate over indium phosphide vs. cadmium QDs and explain how its backlight enhancement implementation differs from that of its competitors.  This is a burgeoning field, and personally I think we have only begun to explore what QDs can do for displays and lighting products.

I hope everyone enjoys what we have assembled this month, and I’m very thankful to all the efforts of our authors, our guest editor, and the hard-working staff that assembles Information Display each month.  Next time I write, it will be for the show issue to be released during Display Week and featuring the winners of SID’s highly coveted Display Industry Awards.  Having just submitted my ballot as a member of the awards committee, I can tell you it was a tough choice among many very worthy nominees.  The committee will have some outstanding winners to announce in May.  In that month, we will also feature another round of vehicle-displays coverage and continue with some more stories about digital signage.  Don’t forget to pick up your next issue of Information Display when you get to San Francisco.  Safe travels!  •