Samsung has been on a roll. They seem to be a great predictor of which core technologies will make it into our consumer devices.  Samsung’s ‘Youm’ display, the one that so many other blogs have been discussing, was at CES.

The flexible OLED display was certainly interesting, and Samsung demonstrated a handheld prototype that was very sexy-bendy.  But I have to admit, I was disappointed.  Not because of Youm, but because of what Samsung did not show this year. I was hoping to see Samsung demonstrate progress with a different flexible display – one that I think is an even more promising base technology known as “electrowetting.”

Electrowetting displays make use of a well-known physical phenomenon; applying a voltage to liquids can modifiy their shape and surface tension.  If a small electrode is placed within a drop of black oil, for example, application of a voltage can then either allow the oil to spread or bead up.  In principle, this tiny drop of oil can act as a shutter by blocking light.  As opposed to LCD technologies that have largely ruled the display world over the past few decades, electrowetting doesn’t rely on polarizing filters to either block or transmit a backlit source.  Because the filter is always in place, regardless of whether a pixel is emitting a particular color, a significant amount of energy is lost as light is attenuated through both filters.  Electrowetting doesn’t have this problem. Each colored pixel can either be blocked by that little drop of oil or, when a voltage it applied, the oil drop tightens itself into a corner of the pixel allowing almost all the backlight to pass through the color pixel.    The result is very bright, high-contrast, beautifully colored displays that require very little energy to drive and can be made on a flexible substrate.  The technology promises a future with thin, low-powered, larger roll-out displays  that we can carry in the palm of our hand.  Pretty cool.

So when Samsung bought Liquavista (the company that developed the technology)  in 2010, I thought we’d begin to see amazing handheld display’s based on Liquavista’s technology sometime between 2012 to 2013.  To be fair Liquavista’s founder Johan Feenstra has been busy, and they have shown iPad-sized displays in demonstration.  I’ll continue to follow the technology and keep readers updated. But if I had my vote, Samsung would work hard to integrate the technology into a hand-held, flexible display system sometime in 2013.

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About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

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