Digital Signage: Wrap Your Head Around This -Flexible Displays!

By: David Little

Research firm iSuppli boldly proclaimed last month that 2008 will be known as the year flexible active matrix displays coalesced into a global market.

According to the El Segundo, CA, -based market research group, market for flexible displays worldwide will climb from $80 million last year to $2.8 billion by 2013 -a whopping 35-times increase.

Applications for the flexible displays will range from the way-out-there clothes made out of wearable displays to more conventional display applications like digital signs, electronic display cards and digital shelf labels and end caps.

If you're not familiar with flexible active matrix technology, here's what they are in a nutshell. After much research and development, electronics giant Philips developed a technique for producing super-thin, rollable active matrix (i.e. pixel addressable) display that can be wrapped around objects --for example, a pillar in an airport concourse or a human body in a shirt.

Just this month, a paper in a nanotechnology journal laid out work of researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Southern California who had successfully developed the first nanowire transistor-based active matrix display. The organic light emitting diode (OLED) display reportedly is every bit as bright as a flat LCD screen or CRT but has the added benefit of flexibility.

Think for a moment of the countless new applications there will be for digital signage based on this sort of flexible display. Architectural structures, such as pillars, supports and hand rails and even entire buildings; vehicles, such as tractor trailers and automobiles; personal items, such as apparel and umbrellas, all become potential homes for new flexible digital signage. While some surely will fail as appropriate homes form digital signage along the way, these sorts of applications are sure to contribute to the 35-fold growth iSuppli envisions.

As this technology matures so to will its performance characteristics. Tighter curves and smaller bends surely will follow with successive generations of these flexible displays. That in turn will lead to a whole new class of objects upon which the displays can be mounted. Eventually, it might even be possible to wrap a flexible active matrix display around a sphere to transform a ball into a globe displaying a computer graphic representation of the Earth -complete with landmasses and oceans. Or, 21st century equivalents of sandwich-board men, could don head-to-toe body wear to display unique promotions and ads. Imagine how that approach could be used to advertise the popular, traveling museum exhibit of plasticized human bodies.

As these applications unfold, there will be a need to address the problem of mapping a two-dimensional image onto a 3-D surface. Here too technology can conquer the challenge. Software applications, such as X-WARP, exist today to correct for such geometric distortions. In fact, such software is being used today to correct geometric distortions created by projecting an image with a video projector onto oddly shaped objects.

However, for the time being it's enough to know that 2008 will be the year flexible active-matrix displays make it out of the lab and into the mainstream. If iSuppli is right, it's entirely possible that before the end of this year we all will have wrapped our heads around the notion that video, graphics and text no longer must be confined to a flat display technology. Where that leads will only be limited by our imaginations.

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