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The Future of Displays is Smart and Flexible...

SpecialChem – Jun 26, 2020

TAGS Automotive     Electrical & Electronics     Transparency    

The Future of Displays is Smart and Flexible

...But what are the ongoing trends, application needs & new developments?

Today, smart displays are progressively becoming mainstream in terms of new developments or new launches!

The reason?

Inclusion of more and more interactive displays, advanced controls powered by voice commands, remote devices, IoT Connectivity, augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), etc.

The emergence of smart and flexible displays brings enormous opportunities for display panel manufacturers, technology developers, and OEMs. We already see many of them in the market in applications, such as:

  • Touchscreen phones
  • Wearable electronics
  • Automotive displays
  • Ultra-thin electronics

Growing applications scope of smart displays lead to continuous innovation in technologies and materials used. For example, high-performance materials such as polymer films, inks, adhesives are emerging as key components that are playing a huge part in transforming in-vehicle panels, touchscreens and many other applications featuring smart displays.

Let's find out the ongoing trends, application needs and supplier news leading to smart and flexible displays in vehicles and electronic devices.

Automotive – How Trends Drive Futuristic Display

Autonomous driving, AI/AR, and big data are transforming various verticals in the automotive industry. The in-vehicle display is one such vertical embracing these technologies in the form of:

  • Onboard navigation,
  • Infotainment systems,
  • And, touchscreen & gesture controls.

Thus, providing all the information in a digital form.

The automotive industry is steadily becoming an important part in the display industry. The displays are continuously evolving and increasingly becoming a key element in the designing of vehicle interiors. What is astonishing is that in-vehicle display is not just limited to dashboards, they are now the central part of vehicle operations with smart features, such as:

  • Heads-up displays (HUDs) for real-time diagnostics, vehicle speed monitoring, etc.
  • Intelligent rear-view mirror displays
  • And, lots of other unconventional entertainment and comfort designed displays developed for the passengers

Displays in vehicle operations

In-vehicle Displays - Challenges & Requirements

Even if super-futuristic designed cars & modern displays create the buzz in the industry, they have a set of challenges & unique requirements. Some of the key requirements for displays include:

Surface-integrated displays need to last as long as the lifetime of a vehicle Lifetime - In the automotive industry, once a product starts running, it continues for a very longer period – and that will be true for displays as well. Surface-integrated display planels need to last as long as the lifetime of a vehicle and therefore material providers need to ensure that the materials are available for at least 10-15 years.

Guarantee long-term reliability and safetyReliability - Display makers required to meet strict test requirements that guarantee long-term reliability and safety (thermal and mechanical, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC)…). In-vehicle display experiences unique environment versus other consumer electronics, so it is imperative to ensure that they can withstand temperature & humidity variation and provide same level of performance. These are also highly customized automotive parts that need to be tailor-made to each vehicle brand.

Smart Display Technology to be Available at an Affordable Price
Cost-effectiveness - Apart from lifetime and reliability standards, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to consider for automotive displays. I.e. the technology is available at an affordable price.

Whatever are the challenges or needs, the consumers’ interest in smart cars is continuously increasing and this market will only grow. The continuous innovation in materials for automotive displays opens new doors for design engineers, such as flexible transparent substrates, adhesives meant to bond non-flat and complex shapes, etc., thus offering a lighter, safer, and user-friendly environment.

Some of the notable developments in materials and applications include:

  1. Sekisui Chemical’s Film with a light-reflective material for head-up displays (HUD), which project information such as speed, navigation instructions, and alerts onto car windshields.

  2. Glass-free technologies such as organic-LCD (OLCD) are making inroads into flexible displays market. Unlike glass LCDs made from rigid amorphous silicon, OLCD is a plastic display technology featuring flexible, high-performance organic transistors. Thus, leading to additional benefits – shatter-proof, long-lifetime & lower cost.

  3. Covestro offers Bayfol® HX holographic film for automotive lighting and HUDs opening new levels of design capabilities as well as driver benefits. HUD design featuring a holographic film paired with augmented reality (AR) allows light to be redirected efficiently from the projector towards a viewer, thus helping the driver keep their eyes on the road.

    Another notable development from Covestro includes a seamlessly integrated, three-dimensional multi-functional display. Working together with Continental Automotive, they have developed an OLED display with Makrolon® Ai 2417 polycarbonate, which offers high optical purity, and Makrofol® HF polycarbonate film.

  4. Digital side-view mirrors are becoming reality. Digital mirrors are a new vehicle technology that is being explored in the US to replace glass mirrors with a digital display connected to a camera mounted inside or outside the vehicle.

    Lexus has already introduced Digital Side-View Monitor technology in its ES 300h luxury hybrid sedan in Europe. Fulfilling the aim of reducing the driver’s workload, the Digital Side View Monitors automatically present an extended view of the area alongside and behind the car, eliminating the blind spot and helping safer manoeuvres.

  5. Among several new-age automotive concepts seen at CES 2020, there were some innovative displays developments as well which are worth discussing. For example:

    • Audi presented the 3D mixed reality head-up display developed in cooperation with Samsung. The images are projected onto the windshield through lenses and mirrors. To the driver, the images that the Audi 3D mixed reality head-up display shows appear to be floating at a distance of around 8 to 10 meters. Thanks to a special form of display, this apparent distance even increases to more than 70 meters. The great advantage of this is that the eyes, accustomed to a long-range view, do not have to refocus.

    • To showcase its abilities and technologies, Sony unveiled its electric car concept. The vehicle is a prototype showcasing Sony’s sensors and in-car entertainment technologies. These include a set of rectangular displays on the dashboard that stretch from pillar to pillar "for driving information and entertainment", middle display as well as touchscreen displays in front of the passenger seat.

  6. 3M’s bonding technologies such as foam tapes, structural liquid adhesives and optically clear adhesives provide immediate strength and workability as well as protect sensitive display designs in automotive displays.

Smartphones Flexible Displays – Where the Future Lies?

Touchscreen displays are witnessing considerable growth owing to the growing use of electronic devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, and wearables) coupled with technological advancements.

Some of the commonly used touchscreen technologies include:

  • Resistive touch screens - They consist of several very thin layers. When someone presses the touch panel, the top layer bends to make contact with the bottom layer, closing a circuit and causing a current loop.

  • Capacitive touch screens – They accept “Multi-touch” controls and require less physical force to register a touch. They are longer-lived than comparable resistive touch screens, making them suitable for high-grade panel controllers or mobile phones.

  • Infrared touch screens – They consists of light emitting elements and light receiving elements located around the device’s bezel. They operate because of light-beam interruption or beam break to determine the location of touch events.

Commonly Used Touchscreen Technologies

A Key to Next-generation Display Technology is Flexibility

Today, the emergence of flexible, bendable, and ultra-slim screens brings new opportunities for smartphones and other electronic devices.

Capacitive OLED (an organic light-emitting diode) screens are becoming more and more popular in touch screens. Capacitive displays provide better image clarity and more durability to the screen. OLED screens bring different benefits, such as:

  • Better Durability – Flexible screens with OLED are made from plastic, thus provide better durability vs traditional glass panels

  • Thinner Dimensions – Flexible OLED screens enable thin dimensions.

  • Lightweight – OLEDs are made up of flexible materials like plastic resulting in significant weight reduction vs traditional glass solutions thus making the devices lighter.

Therefore, the potential future of flexible screens looks promising, but there are many challenges including higher costs, design freedom, durability, acceptance, etc. to sustain the technology.

New smartphone designs are starting a revolution and need material, process, and technology evolution to gain higher adoption rates. Manufacturers and designers continue to look at innovations to make future smartphones flexible, fully transparent, thinner with captive screens and higher shock resistance.

Innovations to make future smartphones flexible

Material and Application Developments Supporting the Growth

Transparent conductive & flexible films (TCF) are very promising polymer-based solutions for flexible displays with many high-performance characteristics including transparency, lightweight, flexibility, and robustness. These films are either conductive polymer-based films or often based on materials, such as:

  • Indium tin oxide (ITO)
  • Silver nanowire (AgNW)
  • Graphene
  • Carbon nanotubes (CNT)

Transparent conductive inks based on silver nanowires offer excellent conductivity (30-70 ohm/sq). They can be printed on multiple flexible plastic substrates substrate PC, COP, PEN, COC to produce TCF for flexible display, touch panel, LED/OLED, etc.

Nano-Solution Conductive and Semi-Conductive Inks

Bendable glass technology isn’t entirely new, but it is now making inroads into the flexible display market. However, one of its main challenges is ‘making it ultra-thin’ and multiple companies are working to overcome the challenge.

Some of the recent developments & ongoing research in foldable phones are:

  • Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is the foldable phone with a glass screen
  • Huawei has also launched its foldable smartphone, the Mate X and now unveiled Mate Xs as successor.
  • Motorola has joined the club with Moto Razr with a foldable screen.
  • Xiaomi and LG are also reportedly working on foldable screen phones of their own.
  • Corning is aiming to create a 0.1mm thick glass that can bend to a 5mm radius with better impact resistance.

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is the foldable phone with a glass screen

To conclude, there is no doubt that flexible displays will transform the way we use our devices, our vehicles, and our homes. While challenges such as durability, cost, etc. make these developments unquestionably real, it is still exciting to see them becoming mainstream in the coming years.

In the future, they may form the basis of foldable & flexible devices that open the opportunities for both material suppliers and designers with entirely new market categories.

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