LG flexible e-paper displays to be mass-produced

Saturday, August 28, 2010, 13:53 by Tech Correspondent

Flexible e-paper might find its way into some futuristic products, while color e-paper is likely to appear in e-readers

LG Display has said that it is going to mass produce flexible 19 inch e-paper displays as well as smaller, 9 inch color displays. The information appeared in an LG SEC filing. There is no clarity on when we will be able to see products using the flexible e-paper displays, but it is unlikely that LG would go ahead and declare its plans without already having tentative agreements with some manufacturers.

LG has developed one e-paper that measures 9.7 inches diagonally and supports color; and another that measures 19 inches, is flexible, and with a thickness of 0.3 mm, it weighs 130 grams. This is a black & white display, and the size is close to the 22 inches of a standard broadsheet newspaper. That means there are definitely some interesting possibilities there. Remember that LG Display already manufactures the e-paper used in the Amazon Kindle.

E-paper displays, flexible or not, can also maintain their display when power is shut off – they would hold the image, till it has to be updated.

LG flexible 19 inch e-paper display photo

Photo: Publicity photo of LG's 19 inch e-paper display

E-paper has the potential to make that old science fiction dream of wirelessly updating newspapers come true. But there are many hurdles to get there, and a mass-produced e-paper might only be a first step in that direction.

The color e-paper from LG is not flexible, but this one might find its way to a high-end e-reader.

E-paper tech can be used for existing products such as ultra thin televisions, e readers, tablets and phones, but can also lead to the development of completely new products such as newspapers that are wirelessly updated, blackboards in schools or signage. Other possibilities are flexible phones and roll-able computers.

However, even though the e-paper screen might be flexible, the other electronic components in a device might prevent flexibility. Amazon’s e reader Kindle has the flexible screen alright, but the device itself continues to be stiff.

Color e-paper on the other hand still has a way to go before it matches high definition, crisp color that LCD technology produces, at least as of now. Also, while it may be better than LCD at saving power, a color e-paper display would not be as efficient as a black and white display.

Samsung was earlier developing e-paper but decided to stop making them, at least for a time, because the company believed the technology to be too expensive. Samsung said at the time, though, that it would make further attempts at developing e-paper by using liquid crystal solutions.

These factors – color, flexibility, power efficiency, cost etc. – are being tested out for the most efficient combination such that there could be, in the near future, e paper that combines the advantages of portability and ease of use that traditional paper affords, and the innumerable possibilities that come with the use of electronics and modern polymers.

E-paper in development

Although LG hasn’t yet created an e-paper that is responsive to touch (a flexible touchscreen), at least one lesser known company has. Hardware maker Displax has evolved a touchscreen called Skin, which is said to be a paper-thin film that can be spread out on any non metal surface – whether opaque, or transparent, smooth or bumpy.

Skin can recognize up to sixteen simultaneous finger touches, and is responsive to air being blown on it as well. Displax’s Skin has nanowires capable of detecting the exact location and direction of air blown onto the surface. Data from the Skin can be transferred to a computer through a USB or serial connection.

Other companies, such as Plastic Logic, are working on next generation e readers with flexible screens.

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