New LED tech promises more flexible displays

Process for creating ultrathin LEDs could result in cheaper, better, more flexible displays for everything from windows to TVs to wearable health monitors.

A new LED display process could change the way you watch TV, monitor your health, and gaze out of windows.

Developed by a team of international researchers, the new process creates tiny, ultrathin inorganic light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that shine brighter and last longer than conventional LEDs.

Stretchable micro-LED display, consisting of an interconnected mesh of printed micro LEDs bonded to a rubber substrate.
Stretchable micro-LED display, consisting of an interconnected mesh of printed micro LEDs bonded to a rubber substrate. Photo by D. Stevenson and C. Conway, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois

John Rogers, professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, teamed up with experts at Northwestern University, the Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore, and Tsinghua University in Beijing to create the new process, as described in a news story published Thursday by the University of Illinois and in the journal Science.

Micro_LED display printed on a thin sheet of plastic, wrapped around a finger
Micro_LED display printed on a thin sheet of plastic, wrapped around a finger. Photo by D. Stevenson and C. Conway, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois

Inorganic LEDs are bright and long-lasting, but they're costly, thick, and difficult to manufacture. Organic LEDs are cheaper and easier to make, thinner, and can be applied to flexible surfaces. The new process combines the best of both worlds.

"Our goal is to marry some of the advantages of inorganic LED technology with the scalability, ease of processing and resolution of organic LEDs," said Rogers. "By printing large arrays of ultrathin, ultrasmall inorganic LEDs and interconnecting them using thin-film processing, we can create general lighting and high-resolution display systems that otherwise could not be built with the conventional ways that inorganic LEDs are made, manipulated, and assembled."

The technology could pave the way for TV screens that you roll up and brake light indicators that fit the contour of your car.

One especially promising use for flexible LED sheets lies in the medical field. "Wrapping a stretchable sheet of tiny LEDs around the human body offers interesting opportunities in biomedicine and biotechnology," said Rogers, "including applications in health monitoring, diagnostics, and imaging."

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

ARTICLE DISCUSSION

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

Hot on CNET

The Next Big Thing

Consoles go wide and far beyond gaming with power and realism.