US Army’s new mission: Accelerate flexible display R&D

New partnership center aims to launch commercial technologies on coattail of military applications

J. Robert Lineback, Senior Editor

It has been a long time — perhaps decades — since the military has been in a position to become a leading driver for potentially huge applications in solid-state technology. This time, however, the US Army believes it can help accelerate development of revolutionary flexible displays for use on the “battlefields of the future” as well as in a wide range of commercial applications during the next 5-10 years.

As part of the “Future Force Warrior” initiative, the Army Research Laboratory aims to dramatically reshape the way combat infantry soldiers retrieve information and view activity in battle, by replacing paper and today’s glass-based flat panel displays with rugged flexible displays built on plastic and other types of substrates. These energy-efficient, lightweight displays will be integrated with digital electronics, wireless networking radios, sensors, and power sources, including solar cells. The goal is to deploy battle-hardened display systems, which could be rolled up or folded and placed into pockets¿and ultimately, create “smart uniforms” which could provide color displays stitched on sleeves for quick and easy access in combat.

To quickly reach that point — within four or five years — the Army Research Laboratory has committed $43.7 million in a five-year cooperative agreement with Arizona State U. to create the newly-opened Flexible Display Center in Tempe, AZ. Total spending on the center is estimated at about $100 million, including contributions by partners. The center also is taking aim at new processes and materials for what many consider as the “Holy Grail” in the display industry: roll-to-roll manufacturing vs. today’s wafer or plate-based batch fabrication systems.

“Our goal is to speed commercialization of flexible displays by keeping development centered on commercial standards, which means there will be no issues restricting suppliers or the export of technologies,” explained David Morton, displays technology manager for the Army Research Laboratory based in Adelphi, MD. In addition, the center’s cooperative agreement defines ownership of intellectual property (IP) rights.

“For the partners [companies, academic researchers, the center, and the Army] ownership of IP follows invention. And what you bring in is yours,” he told WaferNews after the Flexible Display Center’s dedication ceremony on Feb. 4. “The center can use the all IP internally. If the center is a significant contributor [to IP invention], it will have rights too. The IP agreement was critical to bringing in industrial partners.”

Freeing up the commercial use of technology from the Flexible Display Center has played a crucial role in recruiting international partners. In addition to the US Display Consortium, 10 companies have now joined the center, including Ito America Corp. (the US subsidiary of Japan’s Ito Corp.) and Sch


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