Image source: FlexEnable
The whole idea of flexible tech can seem a bit far-fetched at times. Reading about dazzling new wearable gadgets like foldable tablets and roll-up TVs is interesting and inspiring, but it makes you wonder: when will this kind of tech be available to the common consumer? Will the average reader even be able to afford it when it does hit the market?
The answers? Soon, and most likely, yes, and here are some reasons why.
Low-cost plastic LCDs
More cost-effective materials – like using plastic rather than glass – could signal a potential drop in wearable prices. Companies like organic electronics technology provider FlexEnable have just showcased a new, full-colour, conformable organic liquid crystal display (OLCD) at IDTechEx USA in November, the world’s largest conference and exhibition on printed electronics.
According to their press release, this display ‘provid[es] the same display quality and reliability that is expected from a glass LCD display.’ Their conformable 4.7” display module ‘has been developed using a maximum processing temperature below 100°C which brings significant manufacturing advantages by allowing for the use of lower cost plastic substrates (such as TAC – a ubiquitous plastic commonly used for display polarizer sheets that is cheaper than display glass).’
Spray-on solar power
Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed another environmentally-friendly solution to reducing the overall cost of manufacturing new tech by inventing a way to spray solar cells onto flexible surfaces. The miracle substance is colloidal quantum dots (CQD), defined as ‘a semicondutor material which is small enough to take advantage of the laws of quantum mechanics’ in an article about the new research. Basically, these particles are able to absorb more of the solar spectrum, therefore they provide a better solution for harnessing solar power. Since batteries make up a large amount of a device’s weight and production cost, having a solar solution could reduce prices and overall bulk of future wearables.
Another miracle substance that could drastically lower costs is being developed for wearable applications. Graphene is a layer of carbon atoms that is incredibly strong, incredibly thin and is able to conduct heat and electricity (for a more technical, in-depth explanation, read this). A recent article on TeleRead reports that research out of the University of Glasgow details ‘a new manufacturing technique for graphene-based displays, instancing production costs down from $115 per square metre to just $1.’ The research also points to these as potential applications for rollable or folding displays and high-resolution e-paper.
As with most ground-breaking discoveries in the tech world, it will take a bit of time before we can purchase these new, ultra-efficient devices. But the fact that we are already researching alternative methods (in labs all over the world) is a step in the cost-effective direction.