Looking Ahead with Optimism?


It is hard to believe that 2008 is almost over and we are beginning the 2009 calendar year and Information Display's 2009 editorial-calendar cycle. I'm extremely pleased with the issue themes and technology topics we are working on as well as the team of Guest Editors we have recruited thus far. In 2009, we have two issues dedicated to the topics of portable and low-power displays. As you will see in the articles this month, there is renewed energy in the field of handheld and portable products, from pico projectors to OLEDs to MEMS-based devices. Minimizing power for cordless use and longer battery life continues to be a significant part of the picture as well.

We are also bringing back the topic of display manufacturing. Manufacturing is, of course, the obvious end game for almost all of the development work that we chronicle. In most cases, the money spent on development is investment in future revenue and profits that must be realized for the cycle to repeat. A technology that cannot be manufactured in high volume for a reasonable cost rarely gets past the research phase at most companies. Sometimes new developments require new manufacturing methods to be realized, and it is frequently at this last stage where the largest part of the investment gets consumed. In this current economic climate, which I must acknowledge is looking more and more like a global downturn, making those new investments, let alone keeping up with current research costs, is becoming harder than ever.

This month, our theme is Projection Displays and as we began planning with our Guest Editor, Bob Melcher, we realized that much of the effort is clearly focused in the portable or pico-projector area, where extreme miniaturization, high light efficiency, and ultra-low power consumption are critical design goals. This is reflected in two of our articles, one by Mark Handschy from Displaytech, who is developing a color-sequential single-panel liquid-crystal–on–silicon (LCOS) system with LED backlighting. The other is by David Lashmet from Microvision, who is pursuing a metal-on-silicon microelectromechanical system (MEMS) illuminated with lasers. Both approaches employ very recent developments in their fields and appear to be very promising. Worth noting, it was last year at this time that we published David Lashmet's Business of Displays column titled "Re-Focusing Microvision" where he gave us a very candid look into their internal process to re-engineer their company and overcome some organizational challenges, to focus themselves properly on this new effort. It's great to see what has evolved over the ensuing year and to recognize that their efforts are starting to bear fruit. The story does not always end this way.

Bob Melcher is a former colleague of mine and a well-respected member of our display community. Bob has extensive first-hand experience in developing imaging devices, including LCOS, and put a great deal of effort into building this issue for us. We are very grateful for his generous efforts. You can read the introductions for the rest of our December feature articles in Bob's guest editorial.

Another interesting article this month is the exciting announcement of the commercialization of the Readius portable ebook reader based on E-Ink technology. This, we believe, is the first truly foldable display being sold to consumers. (If you are not familiar with the product, it is shown in the inset on our cover.) The display portion folds back into the housing, providing a small shirt-pocket-sized enclosure that still allows a full page of text to be easily read when the display is unfolded. This marks a tremendous milestone on the path of flexible displays and one that will surely be followed by other products and similar innovations. We suspect the manufacturing infra-structure for this type of product is still im-mature, but even a small amount of commercial success will surely spark rapid invest-ment – this, as I mentioned earlier, is another reason we want to take a good look at display-manufacturing technology over the next year.

Last year at this time I also expressed my amazement of display technology itself, and how it seems to touch everyone's lives and envelope countless scientific disciplines. The displays we build serve as windows back into the world from where they came and help everyone to see things in ways they may not have imagined before. I sometimes use the term "magical" because I really believe that despite our critical investigation of the physical world, and our highly evolved understanding of materials and processes, there is a level of elegance in the final form that cannot be fully explained. For many of us, the magic may be lacking these days, with the economic downturn causing defensive reactions throughout the corporate world, such as reduced spending on research, consolidation of existing operations, and limits on funding for capital programs. The side effects will certainly be felt throughout the display community and affect all of us, but I believe this period will be short-lived.

Here at Information Display, we remain undeterred. If the past years have taught us anything, it is that the industry we love produces technology that people virtually cannot live without anymore. Rarely can you find anyone who does not own a television, and cell phones have penetrated almost every society in the world. People view their cell phones (with camera and video features) and their organizers as critical parts of their existence. It's easy to envision pico projectors and e-readers in a similar way, with the evolution of these devices into ones that create an integrated seamless personal-information space. The time is near when everyone will upgrade to some type of personal device that includes a virtual display and interactive information that is much more immersive thanwhat is available today. Projection technology is surely an enabler of this evolution so it's hard to imagine any economic or political situation that can slow this down very much. Where consumers wait with needs unmet, there waits technology ready to fulfill. Our job is to bring that potential to life, and thus far our track record seems pretty good. I'm looking forward to the coming year and I hope you are also.

On a sad note, we were surprised to hear of the death of Chuck Pearson, well known to many of us for his tireless work in human resources for the display and semiconductor industries. Chuck volunteered countless hours to various SID activities and I always enjoyed his insights and counsel at our frequent meetings. He helped many people launch their careers and gave freely of his time to anyone who sought his help. It was an honor to be his friend and work with him on the SID Board. On behalf of the team at Information Display, we thank you, Chuck, for all you did to brighten our days. We will miss you.

Stephen P. Atwood