Now More than Ever Before: Flexible and Low-Power Technology Meets a Need


by Stephen P. Atwood

This month, as we send our Low-Power and Flexible Devices issue to press, we continue to ponder how much energy efficiency has taken over our engineering vocabulary. In just a few short years, the otherwise usually quiet lobby for environmental protection has taken center stage, giving us entirely new business imperatives and a new vocabulary of "Green." "Living Green," "Going Green," "Green Friendly," and other similar terms are now a part of our daily dialog, at least on the marketing side. We have discussed this a few times in the past year, but it just keeps coming up everywhere we look. As you shop the aisles of the consumer-electronics stores, energy consumption, battery life, and other metrics are now prominent features listed on displays and have become serious comparison points for consumers. Even in the industrial display marketplace where I participate, energy efficiency and total power consumption have become serious major considerations and competitive elements. A few years ago, these factors were only minor considerations because of other design parameters such as maximum operating temperature or product lifetime. Now, energy efficiency is of paramount concern as industrial installations scramble to meet new government initiatives and bring their facilities into compliance with total-energy-efficiency mandates.

Going back to 2005 or even earlier, Information Display has published many articles on the subject of low-power display technologies, including electronic paper. In fact, the concept of e-paper goes back more than 10 years with a constant theme of bistability, low power consumption, and, of course, flexibility. So, although this is a fairly new topic in the mainstream electronics industry, it has actually been part of our vocabulary for a long time.

Author Steve Sechrist in his Display Marketplace feature, "Round-up of Ultra-Low-Power Technologies," explains how the new government mandates and the focus of the display industry are surprisingly in alignment, as many aspects of display technology are being enriched to bring more power efficiency to products such as TVs and mobile devices. Even OLED technology is maturing to the point where it can significantly improve on the current baseline power consumption of AMLCDs in mobile devices, as explained by authors Ruiqing Ma, Mike Hack, and Julie J. Brown in the article titled "Flexible AMOLEDs for Low-Power, Rugged Applications." We have always been enthusiastic about the potential for energy efficiency of OLEDs because of their emissive nature and the opportunity to increase battery life through judicious use of content, but now we see that even the underlying materials have achieved fundamentally improved efficiencies that will challenge AMLCDS in mobile devices regardless of image content. We already know from last year's September 2009 ID article, "Emerging Technologies for the Commercialization of AMOLED TVs," written by Hye Dong Kim, Hyun-Joong Chung, Brian H. Berkeley, and Sang Soo Kim, that UDC's PHOLED technology offers significant opportunities for energy-efficient HDTVs over their LCD counterparts.

Of course, ruggedization, lighter weight, and flexibility are also important attributes for displays, and as our returning Guest Editor Robert Zehner explains in his editorial, having a flexible-display substrate is sometimes not as much about bending the display as it is about not breaking the display in the normally harsh environment of the real world. In the article "Flexible Displays Made with Plastic Electronics" by Seamus Burns, the Plastic Logic technology for making flexible e-readers is described and we get a good view into the workings of the QUEproReader that was just shown at CES 2010. In addition to flexibility, this device uses organic TFTs from a proprietary process developed by Plastic Logic.

Back in the June 2005 issue of ID, we published articles written by Peter Smith and Prof. Gregory Crawford discussing numerous issues and opportunities in both the materials for flexible substrates and the technologies under research for TFTs. It's really exciting to look back now from where have come to see how much innovation has occurred and how fast it has happened. There is not enough space here to describe it all, but for energetic readers, it's a fun exercise and all back issues through 2005 are available on our website at

Of course, in order for all this technology to get utilized, it needs a killer application and I think it could be argued that e-readers are certainly coming close to being one of those. This month our managing editor Jenny Donelan surveys the product space for eBook readers and discusses market growth along with upcoming product enhancements such as color, video capability, and of course, flexibility. This, along with the entrenched applications such as HDTV and mobile devices in a number of configurations makes it clear to me the people working in the flexible and low-power space will have no shortage of customers in the coming years. •