Generations of Innovation

Generations of Innovation

by Stephen P. Atwood

In spite of the rapidly growing pace of innovation, key technologies remain generational. In many cases, the things we consider ubiquitous today were probably nascent 25 to 50 years ago, or even longer. The original internet was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and the ubiquitous web began around 1990. If you were born later than about 2000, you probably can’t imagine a world without liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), the web, and real-time instant access to practically every piece of information and news you want. But there was a time, a generation or two ago, when people had to wait for the daily newspaper to come out, consult printed books and catalogs for technical data, and do computational modeling with slide rules and adding machines.

Such was the setting when George Heilmeier and associates at RCA unveiled that first LCD back in 1968. That’s 50 years ago – a time when we were on the verge of a manned moon landing but were mostly watching black-and-white cathode-ray-tube (CRT) TVs and programming early computers with punch cards. Incidentally, space travel itself took several generations to evolve from amateur rocketry to a manned spacecraft that could escape the gravity of the earth.

While the principle of an LCD was solidly understood in the 1970s, the pervasive displays we know today came about only after numerous additional innovations. These include active-matrix addressing, three major generations of thin-film transistors (TFTs), optical compensation films, and various LC modes such as twisted nematic (TN), vertical alignment (VA), in-plane switching (IPS), optically compressed bend (OCB), backlight technology, and many more. This is not to mention a collective capital investment on the scale of the gross national product of several countries. It took at least 20 years for LCDs to first appear in computers and on desktops.

LCD technology today is the culmination of at least two generations of work by countless scientists, engineers, and visionary business leaders. LCDs enable virtually every major consumer and industrial product today, either directly or indirectly. They also support a gigantic global supply-chain ecosystem producing critical components and materials to make those displays. It’s hard to fully imagine all the economic value fueled by the LCD industry today.

This technology platform continues to evolve, as the next generation of ambitious engineers and scientists build their careers with further innovations. Meanwhile, we have a chance to look back at some of the most seminal contributions to the field with a special event at Display Week. This May, SID is holding a 50th anniversary LCD Celebration at the show in Los Angeles. The celebration will feature a collection of LCD luminaries who have played pivotal roles in this technology. The details are described in our SID News feature, and the roster of speakers is not to be missed. This will be a wonderful chance to either reminisce if you were there for part of the history, or gain some perspective on how we got here and where this technology is going next.

Some of the people who were there along the way and made crucial contributions to the LCD industry are recognized by this year’s SID Honors and Awards. As Jenny Donelan explains in our cover story for this issue, “by chance,” each of the major award winners “has enjoyed a career based on or related to LCDs.” Each year, the Society for Information Display honors those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of displays, and if anything symbolizes the generational nature of innovation, this year’s honorees certainly do. Here at ID we do our best to capture the essence of their achievements in the biographies and citations thoughtfully compiled by Jenny. But nothing we write can come close to documenting the lifetimes’ worth of ideas, challenges, setbacks, inspirations, and successes that these individuals have weathered on behalf of our industry.

I am especially pleased this year to see the addition of a new award, the David Sarnoff Industrial Achievement Prize, which goes to those who have had a profound, positive effect on the display industry over a period of many years, and are broadly recognized across the industry. This year’s recipient, Sang Wan Lee, professor at Hanyang University and former CEO of Samsung’s LCD Division, gave a keynote speech at Display Week 2005 in Boston that was truly inspiring. His vision, combined with his position of influence, truly changed the velocity of LCD-TV development over the past 18 years. I also want to say congratulations to Seth Coe-Sullivan, vice president of technology and chief technology officer for Luminit, who will be receiving the Peter Brody Prize. Seth got his Ph.D. from MIT up here in New England and was a frequent speaker at our New England chapter of SID events during his time at QD Vision. While the SID honors are being bestowed on these leaders of the display industry, the real honor goes to those who have had the privilege of knowing them, working with them, learning from them, and using their innovations to build better products that enrich people’s lives.

Once again, we’re just a couple months away from Display Week 2018. This year, the big show is once again in sunny and warm Los Angeles, beginning on May 20 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. I’ll have more to say about this later on, but if you have not yet made your plans to visit, you should! I’m sure by the time you read this, the winter rains will have ended and the southern California landscape will be vivid, bold, and as welcoming as ever.

This year’s technical program features nearly 450 papers, including about 85 invited talks. There are a total of 83 technical sessions. I mention the numbers because they provide a context to the scale and depth of the event, which in fact is just one part of the overall Display Week program. If you are looking for proof that innovations are plentiful in the world of displays, this will certainly do it. Aside from the sheer numbers, the rich array of technical focus areas such as AI/AR/VR; Quantum Dots and microLEDs; and Wearable Displays, Sensors and Devices will surely make for one of the most exciting symposiums ever. Starting with the seminars on Sunday, May 21, this year will pack more technical and business content into one week than any other display industry event in the world.

To start planning your visit, consult the Display Week web site to register, then sit back and enjoy our Symposium Preview compiled by Jenny Donelan. Of course, I’m always partial to the metrology papers because I’m also the sub-committee chair for display measurement, but this year’s lineup of AR/VR papers could be the roadmap for predicting the future of this space. I’d also suggest looking closely at microLEDs and quantum dot LEDs (QLEDs), both emissive technologies with a great deal of promise for a new generation of displays. And oh yeah – don’t forget the stretchable electronics and wearables papers – and also… well you get the idea! It’s a lot to cover, so bring some friends and make sure you divide and conquer to hear and see all the great symposium presentations.

Our technical theme for this issue is Displays for AR/VR applications, and we have two broad-reaching articles addressing the advantages of OLED and LCOS micro-displays assembled by our Guest Editor Seth Coe-Sullivan. You should read Seth’s excellent guest editorial, “The Race for Dominance: OLED or LCOS Microdisplays in Augmented and Virtual Reality,” first to get a good context of these two topical features. The first, “LCOS and AR/VR,” by Po King Li, VP of marketing and sales for LCOS displays at Himax Display, presents a compelling case for the future of LCOS in creating lightweight and high-luminance AR glasses. The second, “OLED Displays and the Immersive Experience,” by long-time ID supporter Barry Young, CEO of the OLED Association, presents a great overview of the important considerations for development of these platforms, along with the role OLED technology can play in enabling commercial success. I can say from personal experience that head-worn displays for AR and VR are another clear example of a generational technology, one that has periods of initial excitement, some down times, then intermittent periods of resurgence as supporting technologies evolve. We’re in one of those periods of new energy now, with greatly advancing computational power and evolving choices for displays as well. I was very involved in the development of LCOS displays for glasses and goggles in the late 1990s, but several pieces of the puzzle were missing at that time that prevented mainstream success with these products. Incidentally, I can’t promise that being a guest editor for ID will lead to receiving an SID award, but the evidence this year suggests it doesn’t hurt your chances either. Feel free to contact us if you are interested and we’ll put in a good word with the awards committee!

At CES this year, displays were everywhere, and yet not nearly as much a part of the show as they used to be – as we learned from author Ken Werner, whose Show Review, “Five Short Display Stories from CES 2018,” covers the highlights for us. The interesting stories range from TVs to automotive displays, rollable OLED panels, and quantum dots. My favorites are some of the new concepts for automotive displays and the rollable full-size OLED TV display. I called Best Buy, but they said mine is not ready yet. Soon, I hope. I can’t wait to see these hit the market!

Our Business of Displays feature this month looks at the market for silicon backplanes for microdisplays by way of a Q&A with Mike Stover, vice president of marketing and engineering for Jasper Display Corp. Jasper, with partner glō, won an I-Zone Best Prototype Honorable Mention from SID for its megapixel silicon backplane (4K × 2K) and spatial light modulator technology for microdisplays. Jenny spent some time with Mike on the phone talking about his company, the technology, and some of the challenges for backplanes in this evolving market of AR and VR devices. Jasper is part of the new generation of suppliers making key building blocks for a rapidly growing eco-system around microdisplays. I’m sure you will enjoy Mike’s insights.

This wraps up our March/April 2018 issue. Our next issue hits the streets just in time for Display Week and I hope I will see many of you there in LA. In the meantime, I wish everyone prosperity, peace, and safe travels.  •