When it comes to portable computing and reading on devices like tablets and eReaders there are two screen types in use today. The eReader has a screen that can't do video and color, but sips power and is highly readable in bright light. Tablets like the iPad have bright and full color screens supporting video, but the screen is a major power drain on the battery shortening the usable life of the gadget.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed a new type of display that combines the best assets of both screen types into one screen that sips power like an eReader screen, but can provide high readability in bright natural light and show color full motion video as well. The new screen tech is dubbed a zero power e-Design and was developed with cooperation from a start-up firm called Gamma Dynamics, DuPont, and Sun Chemical.
The project spanned about seven years from the start to the prototype products being unveiled this week. That seems like a long time, but the researchers claim that other similar projects have lasted a decade or more without producing similar results. Researchers in the project included Jason Heikenfeld, UC associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering & Applied Science, and John Rudolph, president of Gamma Dynamics.
Heikenfeld said, "What we’ve developed breaks down a significant barrier to bright electronic displays that don’t require a heavy battery to power them."
The new screen that the team developed uses reflection tech in its design. The screen uses ambient light rather than a backlight making the design power efficient and environmentally friendly. The screen has two layers of liquid inside. One layer is oil and the other is a dispersion fluid like an inkjet fluid. Between those layers of fluid are electrodes that are like highly reflective mirrors. Light enters through the screen, goes through the first layer of fluid, hits the reflective electrodes, and bounces back to the user's eye creating a perceived image that is bright, colorful and can be video, text, or photos in color.
The process requires a small electrical charge to power the movement of the oil and pigment dispersion fluid. Perhaps the most important feature of the new screen is that the tech can be manufactured using existing production facilities and equipment that is used to make screens today. Eventually the tech will find its way into devices like the Kindle eReader, mobile phones, and tablets like the iPad allowing a much longer battery life. Rudolph expects that the screen tech will first be seen in the grocery store as shelf labels and in advertising displays in about three years.
The researchers don’t mention how the screen tech would work in a dark environment. The fact that eReaders that lack a backlight can't be viewed without an external light source is a key fault to some users. A mobile phone with a screen that can't be seen in the dark would be a difficult sell to many consumers.