Foldable, flexible notebook screens on the way

The researchers, at Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, built a prototype active-matrix display of 4096 pixels (64 pixels square) in which each pixel is controlled by a thin-film transistor (TFT) based on a polymer semiconductor.

TFT displays used in today's laptops are made using silicon semiconductors in a manufacturing process which requires an almost perfectly dust-free environment: the so-called clean room. "Making displays using polymer instead of silicon has the advantage that you can make it in less stringent production conditions," said Dr Marianne Vincken, spokesperson for Philips Research Laboratories.

"There's a huge market for active-matrix displays, and if all those could be made in this technology, it could save a lot of money," Vincken said.

The prototype is a polymer-dispersed liquid-crystal display (LCD), which uses ambient light and a reflective backing on a rigid glass substrate.

"For the time being, it's monochrome," Vincken said, "But in principle it can be used for all kinds of displays."

Possibilities include creating flexible displays by mounting the plastic polymer semiconductors on a flexible plastic substrate. Another technology, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDS), could be used to backlight such displays. Philips has licensed OLED technology from its inventor, Cambridge Display Technology. But users may be in for a long wait: polymer display technology is at least five years away from mass production, said Vincken.

"It needs to be extended to larger displays, and nobody knows what we will find along the way," she said.

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