Imagine having a cellphone that can be rolled up like paper. Or how about a smart watch with a flexible glass display? Both could soon be a reality, thanks to flexible electronics - electronics that can be bent and stretched into any shape. Be it flexible touchscreen displays, wearable electronics or electronic sensor tattoos – a slew of high-tech products are all set to revolutionize the way we live. Experts predict that global flexible electronics market will grow to $250 billion by 2025 registering a double digit growth rate.
While the flexible display screen market is still growing, the first devices using this technology will make a debut in the latter part of 2013. A major consumer giant is all set to introduce a mobile device equipped with a flexible display screen. There is also much speculation that Apple is working on an iOS based smart watch, unofficially dubbed the 'iWatch'. Reportedly, the watch has a curved glass screen that wraps around the wrist.
The use of flexible glass technology finds great opportunities in the OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display sector. OLEDs have already been used for digital displays in electronic devices like television screens and computer monitors. Advancements in the field of OLEDs are now leading to new applications in flexible displays for car dashboards as well.
What’s more, army researchers are seeing great potential in flexible displays. In future, soldiers could have plastic electronic sensors embedded in their helmets and uniforms. For instance, a soldier could simply glance down at a lightweight device sewn in his uniform sleeve to understand current mission requirements or any battlefield commands.
Also, as storage and computation becomes more and more cloud-based, various monitoring systems are increasingly becoming low-cost and deployable. Typically, data captured by wearables lives in the cloud. Cloud-based services are especially proving useful in making health monitoring devices more affordable.
In another development, researchers at University of California at San Diego are developing tattoo-like wireless flexible electronics that can be applied to the forehead to read brain activity. On the other hand, electronic tattoos, when placed on the throat could act as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently with just a thought.
With its high growth rate in various markets and obvious advantages over competitive products, companies will keenly invest in flexible electronics in future. Till then, this exciting technology promises to bring forth many more cool products.