New Year, New Materials

by Stephen Atwood

Happy New Year and welcome to the year two-thousand and twelve. For some of you, the New Year celebrations are still under way. For most of the rest of us, those celebrations are now a memory, or an explanation for some slight memory loss. Either way, we are well into January and there is no turning back from the exciting year ahead.

There are endless predictions about what may happen in the year 2012, based on everything from interpretations of the Mayan calendar to the teachings of New Age gurus. We could be looking at anything from a year of rebirth and renewal, possibly punctuated by a spiritual alignment of the solar system and the reversal of the Sun's magnetic poles, to something dire that involves black holes or asteroids on a galactic scale. I'm not sure I'm buying any of it but I can say it's looking to be a very exciting year for the display industry.

Each year, we choose our issue themes based on our best assessment of the future direction of the industry and the topics we perceive to be most likely to produce new and relevant developments. This year, we're focusing on Novel Displays, Cutting-Edge Technology, TVs in all their forms, and Interactivity. Of course, we continue with our perennial roundup of flexible displays, this year with a focus on e-Reader technology, as well as updates on backlighting technology and LEDs. While 3-D technology will not get its own issue this year, we will keep our eye on the field and expect to have several updates on it in the months to come.

We start off the year with our January issue focused on Display Materials. Our guest editor Ion Bita from Qualcomm MEMS Technologies helped us line up several interesting articles on substrate glass, touch-screen materials, transparent conductive coatings, and diffuser films. We start off with our Display Marketplace feature, "Display Glass: Bigger, Thinner, and Stronger," from analyst and ID Contributing Editor Paul Semenza. There was a quite a bit I did not appreciate about glass substrates, but thanks to Paul, I have some new insights about the technology as well as the future of the entire glass supply chain. If you think this is not an exciting marketplace, you should read this article.

Our next feature is a Frontline Technology article titled "Wet Processable Transparent Conductive Materials," written by Michael Spaid from Cambrios. Michael describes the company's new process for producing a transparent coating filled with high-aspect-ratio silver nanowires. The coating, ClearOhm, is an exciting innovation that proves to have real commercial opportunities in touch screens as well as displays. I know from personal experience that developing alternatives to ITO has been a long sought-after goal and one that many different companies have made investments in. It's been a rough road with many technical and business challenges. We wish Cambrios much success and hope you will enjoy reading about its considerable achievement.

In a similar vein, I was also surprised to read about a new type of force-sensing material being applied to touch screens in "Quantum Tunneling Composite Touch-Screen Technology," written by David Lussey from Peratech Limited. This company's invention is a material, dubbed "QTC," that changes its electrical conductivity in proportion to a force applied to it. This same material is also transparent, making it suitable for displays and touch-screen applications. While force-sensing touch concepts are not new, this approach, which essentially mimics the electrical characteristics of a simple resistive touch screen, may be a game changer. We thought the artist's rendition of the quantum tunneling effect was so eye catching that we decided to put it on the cover of this issue.

In this month's regular feature, Making Displays Work for You, we feature an article on improving light efficiency in LCD backlights titled "High-Gain Diffuser Film Enhances Optical Performance for LCDs." Authors Adel Bastawros and colleagues from SABIC Innovative Plastics discuss all the details of making their micro-lenses and in the process show how there are still valuable incremental improvements to be found in this area. In a time when every fractional watt of power efficiency is cherished, you can use these materials right now to improve your own designs.

As always, we also bring you a regular monthly dose of industry news and SID news, the latter this month a review of the LatinDisplay 2011 Conference, where a number of our well-respected colleagues gave presentations and networked with new SID members in a rapidly emerging display marketplace.

One item not featured in our Industry News section deserves mention. The news came to us just before press time that mobile technology company Qualcomm had just acquired a Massachusetts startup company named Pixtronix. You may or may not have heard of Pixtronix and its Digital Micro Shutter MEMS display technology. Qualcomm, of course, has been working on its own MEMS displays trade named mirasol for several years – as we have reported in ID magazine many times. Qualcomm is just on the verge of commercialization and has made significant investments in manufacturing capability to bring the mirasol displays to market. At press time, neither company would comment about the strategy behind the acquisition, leaving industry analysts speculating about the future of the two similar but different display technologies and what Qualcomm might be contemplating. Hopefully we will have more to report next month. Meanwhile, we extend a hearty congratulations to the team at Pixtronix for its hard work and what looks like a fairly lucrative payday for everyone including the investors. We're sure the rest of the story will reveal itself before too long. •