Breakthrough e-Display Brightens Gadget Screens While Curbing Power Consumption

e-display prototype squares photo

Image via Press Release, credit Lisa Ventre, U. of Cincinnati

We love our fancy screens -- the bright, colorful displays on our cell phones and other devices that make using them a lot more fun. However, those brighter, bolder screens use up a lot of energy. Researchers are working on ways to create displays that can sport vivid colors and text while using a fraction of the power. While we haven't been able to get something that combines, say, an iPhone's bright and crisp screen with the power consumption of a Kindle quite yet, a new breakthrough by University of Cincinnati and start-up company Gamma Dynamics gets us a giant step closer to just such a display.

Why The New Electrofluidics Technology Is Better
There are two key elements to the new electrofluidics technology that make it exceptional. First, it can be manufactured with existing equipment and technology, which means less resources spent in building or retrofitting manufacturing facilities. And second, it combines the high speed and bright colors of the displays we enjoy using with the low power consumption of devices we don't mind charging -- a combination electronics manufacturers have been pining for.

gadget display image

Image via Press Release, credit Lisa Ventre, U. of Cincinnati

Lead researcher on the project Jason Heikenfeld states, "What we've developed breaks down a significant barrier to bright electronic displays that don't require a heavy battery to power them."

e-Readers shift black and white pixels around to provide a display, but it's a slow process to get the pixels to move to new locations. The energy efficiency comes at the expense of speedy, vivid colors and text. On the other hand, those displays with the bright, speedy colors also come at a cost -- they take more energy and are hard to read in daylight. The new technology uses existing light coming from the sun or lamps in combination with a low power internal light to capture the best of both worlds.

How Electrofluidics Technology Makes Screens Brighter
Here's how it works:

Behind the display screen are two layers of liquid (oil and a pigment dispersion fluid like an inkjet fluid). Between the two layers are reflective electrodes. Think of these electrodes as a highly reflective mirror.

Ambient light enters through the display screen and through the first layer of liquid and hits the reflective electrodes. When the light hits that reflective electrode, it bounces back out to the viewer's eye, creating the perception of a bright, color-saturated image...or text or video... .

A small electric charge powers the movement of these oil and pigment-dispersion liquids. The movement occurs between a bottom layer behind the reflective electrodes and a top layer in front of the reflective electrodes. When the pigmented substance is positioned in the "top" layer (sandwiched between the ambient light and reflective electrodes), it creates a reflected ray of colored light which combines with literally millions of ambient light rays to produce a full-color display.

gadget display image

Image via Press Release, credit Jason Heikenfeld and Angela Klocke, U. of Cincinnati
Breakthrough Technology Could Improve Advertising Displays
Mirasol -- the technology that mimicks a butterfly's pigmentation for brightly colored displays -- is the closest competition, but still purportedly not as good as this latest breakthrough. The researchers expect that thanks to the ability to use current manufacturing equipment, we can expect to see the technology used for things like advertising displays in as little as three years.

One application the researchers are excited about -- but that we aren't so thrilled with -- are using it as price labels in super markets. That use is one we've questioned in the past in terms of how much e-waste it would generate, versus the environmental footprint of paper tags.

Two big questions we have yet to find out are the longevity of devices made with this technology (will the displays last 5 months or 5 years?) and exactly how much of an energy savings this can provide over similar devices.

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