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Foldable displays: what about the fold?

August 15, 2012

The HCI research community occasionally gets excited about foldable displays (displays can be really big for ease of interaction, but still easy to transport: just fold it up and stick it in your pocket!), but I have to confess that I’ve always been rather skeptical (shocking, I know). In particular, I’ve always been curious how foldable displays would actually deal with, well, folding.

A common analogy researchers draw is with newspapers: it’ll be just like a newspaper, which you can fold and unfold depending on whether you want to read it or carry it. But if you fold paper enough times it’ll fall apart. And even with more rigid materials the hinge is typically the weak point (laptop hinges being one case in point, and my impression is that one of the issues with many of the more adventurous tablet PC designs that Microsoft showed off was the physical strain caused by folding). So I’ve always been unclear on how well foldable displays would actually work: sure, folding them would be cool, but who’d care if they fell apart after 50 folds?

But I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert on materials science, and apparently scientists have made progress in dealing with the issue. A little digging turned up an article talking about work at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (amusingly enough; I hadn’t intended this to be a plug for my employer) on foldable displays where they’ve run a display through a 100,000 fold/unfold cycle:

The researchers tested the foldable display’s mechanical and optical robustness by performing 100,000 folding-unfolding cycles, and found that the relative brightness at the junction decreased by just 6%. Since this difference is hardly recognizable by the human eye, the deterioration is considered negligible. As the researchers explained, the key to making a display with no visible crease involved controlling the optical properties of the materials.

Ok, I’m not sure a decrease of 6% is really “negligible”, but considering I would have expected complete hardware failure it actually doesn’t seem that bad. So maybe there will be something to foldable displays after all.

From → Hardware

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