Daytime talk-show star Oprah Winfrey decreed that the once-for-nerds Kindle e-reader is now mainstream. Like anything her O-ness blesses, the unit rocketed into the top-selling slot on Amazon (for electronics, this time). With flat-panel TVs now commodities, attention is shifting to the next generation of alternative displays: so-called flexible and printed electronics. FPEs include everything from thin solar panels to printable displays. And the media- and marketing-savvy should pay attention: Flexible displays further blur the line between paper and electronics. Like paper, they flex, reflect light, are absurdly durable and most important, render an image without power - which opens the range of the uses to everything from point-of-sales to military applications.
Development in the technology is quickening. At the end of February, Arizona State University created the first touchscreen flex display partially funded by a nearly $100 million grant from the U.S. Army. At the recent Institute of Army Science conference in Orlando, Dr. Thomas H. Killion, Army deputy assistant secretary for research and technology, gave a dramatic presentation of a current ASU prototype - featuring the small flat display taking a direct hammer strike.
"It's like a piece of paper or plastic, but it provides information as dynamic as any PDA," Killion said in his keynote presentation. "But in a form that is lighter, more rugged and less power-consuming than it is today." So wait, e-paper is the weapon of the future?