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Flexible Display & Electronics Conference Focuses on Next-wave E-books

To accelerate development of the growing e-book industry in Taiwan, as well as attempt to boost the island into a leading position in the global market, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) recently held the 2009 Flexible Display & Electronics Technology Exchange Conference, focusing on the next wave of progress in electronic books (e-books).

ITRI president Johnsee Lee (third left) and DTC general director John Chen (second right) at the conference

More than 400 professionals from related industries and venture-capital organizations participated in the one-day conference to learn more about the future of e-books. ITRI also exhibited its latest R&D achievements, which point to the future of e-book technology development, at the conference venue.

A 4.1-inch piece of flexible e-paper is demonstrated by DTC general director Chen.

Dr. Johnsee Lee, ITRI's president, pointed out that in the future e-books will be integrated with cellphones and mini-notebook PCs (netbooks), upgrading netbooks from single-function application platforms into multi-functional devices that play a key role in daily lives. Lee stressed, however, that before this happens the e-book will rapidly evolve from monochrome to color display and from a thick and heavy reading device into a light and thin one with growing applications in colored e-books, electronic newspapers, electronic signboards, electronic textbooks, etc. In the near future, Lee predicted, the annual global production value of e-books will soar to US$12 billion.

The interactive game incorporates flexible display and electronics technologies.

The e-book will also bring major changes in people's daily lives, Lee added, by stimulating new reading habits, learning modes, text creation, and types of publications. E-books are expected to continuously develop into more demassified, personalized, internet-based, and mobilized intelligent information technology (IT) devices, while other related digital-content service platforms and business models will also continue to be developed. These changes, Lee emphasized, will lead to the formation of more and more new service businesses, making the e-book one of the paradigms of new-technology applications.

A very long flexible display with Chinese drawing and a monthly calendar.

Chan Wen-hsin, senior consultant to the Economic Ministry's Department of Industrial Technology (DoIT), said at the conference that the development of the e-book industry has become one of the hottest issues in the world, and that after years of vigorous effort Taiwan has jumped onto the international stage as (so far) the only country supplying electrophoresis (EP) technology display panels and e-book readers. So, Chan stressed, now is the best time to construct a more comprehensive supply chain in the local e-book industry to meet the next wave of e-book development: flexible displays and electronics.

Flexible electronics is a key technology slated by the Taiwan government for priority development, Chan said, and the Economic Ministry has been promoting development of the technology by providing various incentives such as subsidies, through the Science and Technology Development Project, for new-technology development and innovation by private manufacturers. Some leading domestic companies have recognized the future potential of flexible display and electronic products, and have applied to the government to set up cooperative ties with ITRI for the joint development of commercialized products. Among these companies are the AU Optronics Corp. (AUO), Taiwan's largest thin film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panel manufacturer, and IC design house Elan Microelectronics Corp. Such partnerships between private manufacturers and research institutes like ITRI, Chen said, will further consolidate the leading position of Taiwan in the global e-book industry.

John Chen, general director of ITRI's Display Technology Center (DTC), believes that colorization and flexibility are the next-wave trends in e-paper development. DTC is closely cooperating with world-leading EP technology companies in Taiwan in different R&D projects.

According to Chen, cholesterol liquid crystal is a technology with high potential for color e-paper applications. ITRI now holds 217 global patents for this technology, the most in the world, and has successfully developed colorized cholesterol liquid-crystal technologies that use the electricity, light, or heat input methods to shape images on e-paper. These new technologies, Chen said, could be applied to color e-book readers, e-advertisements, decorative arts, gifts or toys, etc.


More than 20 new technologies and future application concepts were on display at the flexible display and electronics conference, among which the following were the most eye-catching:

One of the products, a 4.1-inch flexible active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panel built on a plastic substrate, is only 0.2 cm thick and can display images even when it is curved. The technology incorporated in the flexible OLED represents a major breakthrough for the island's display industry; the flexibility of the display far outstrips that of other available types of displays, and it boasts a brightness of 100 nits and a resolution of 320x240 pixels.

According to ITRI, the flexible OLED display is one of its most important R&D achievements. The new product can serve as both an e-book reader and a multimedia player for moving pictures.

ITRI also introduced a 10.4-inch Quarter-VGA (QVGA, 320 x 240 pixel-resolution) single-layer, multi-color cholesterol LCD, advancing the e-book from a monochrome to a multi-color display. This new display features flexibility, foldability, light weight, high brightness, high reflectance (25% to 30%), and high picture quality, making it suitable for use even as an electronic menu for the display of culinary offerings. The display takes only 3.8 seconds to renew, much less than the 10 seconds needed by some commercialized e-books being marketed by big international brands.

DTC adopted pixelized vacuum filling (PVF) technology to inject and print red, green, and blue cholesterol liquid crystals onto a single-layer liquid-crystal film, greatly cutting thickness and weight compared to conventional cholesterol displays and making it light-weight and thin, with a wide viewing angle.

ITRI transferred its flexible plastic substrate technology to AUO, and the two parties jointly completed development of the six-inch flexible e-book.

Colored E-paper for Entertainment

ITRI has applied its cholesterol liquid-crystal technology to other purposes as well-e-advertisements, decorative arts, gifts or toys-that can take advantage of the technology's flexibility, rapid flash, and multi-color display. For more fun, the research institute developed a game in nine sections; players can throw a ball to hit any one of the sections to change the image or picture.

A pioneering paper-thin digital e-drum was another interesting device exhibited at the conference. In the future, all a drummer will need to show off his musical talent will be a paper-thin display with built-in high-sensitivity pressure sensors.

The flexible AC light-emitting-diode (LED) lighting source is the future of illumination. ITRI has developed a 14-inch flexible AC LED lighting source that can be integrated into different kinds of lighting fixtures or interior designs. This innovative lighting source is made of high-efficiency chips and high thermo-conductive materials to enhance heat dissipation, allowing it to have a thickness of less than 3mm and with a bending radius of under 5cm.

(by Quincy Liang)
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