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Taiwanese Group Developing Thin, Flexible E-Reader Displays

The Industrial Technology Research Institute and AU Optronics are partnering to mass produce durable, paper-thin screens suitable for use in schools.

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E-readers may soon be equipped with flexible screens that are thin as a sheet of paper because of a joint effort between a research institute and one of the world's largest manufacturers of screen makers.

The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and AU Optronics, both based in Taiwan, are partnering to create displays that are thin and flexible and could be used to make e-reader screens for schools, an AU Optronics spokesman told IDG News. Other uses include instant, pull-out screens on mobile phones. The government-sponsored ITRI developed a process to make the thin displays and the AU will mass produce them at an old factory it is presently converting.

Flexible screens are ideal for schools since they bend rather than break, and would be more durable for children to use. While the functionality for a new touchscreen for the paper-thin screens is not yet ready, a company specializing in touchscreen technology has received a license from the ITRI.

Another of the project's goals is to segue from monochrome flexible screens to brilliant color screens, such as Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (AMOLED), that will be used on the e-readers when the AU Optronics factory is converted.

Because the flexible screens are wafer-thin, measuring about 30 microns, the AU Optronics spokesman said it was a challenge trying to figure out a way to manufacture them. In order to prevent them from curling up, they have to be bonded to a piece of glass during the production process. Problems arose when the production was completed and the flexible screen was lifted off the glass, because heat caused the screens to stick and some of them ripped. It took the ITRI 63 attempts before the researchers figured out a way to remove the finished screen from the piece of glass.

The researchers solved this problem by watching a cook lift a thin crepe from a hot pan using oil, which kept it from breaking, the ITRI spokesman said. By adding a material that wasn't too sticky between the flexible display and the glass, the researchers were able to successfully lift the screen from the glass.

The new process has been dubbed FlexUPD, for Flexible Universal Panel for Displays, by the ITRI. The ITRI is calling the process for the touchscreen technology Flexible Touch-Sensing AMOLED film. Already, paper-thin flexible color AMOLED screens and the touchscreen film have been developed for 10-inch displays and smaller, but the ITRI has not said when the AMOLED screens would be available. Also not yet known is the pricing for the thin, flexible displays.

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