Samsung is developing a fabric-like display for smart clothing

Samsung is developing a fabric-like display for smart clothing

Now that the first curved and bendable displays are starting to enter mass production, Samsung is moving on to the next adjective with a new elastic diode arrangement capable of stretching like a fabric. The technology, which was revealed in a recently published patent application from the company’s monitor-making business, bears a close resemblance to an experimental light-emitting textile that researchers at UCLA’s material engineering department briefly showed to the public two years ago.

Both implementations would appear under a microscope as a network of thin wires that could be mistaken for a woven pattern if not for the fact that they’re several orders of magnitude smaller and made of metal. UCLA used silver, which is also one of the options Samsung is weighing for its stretchable screen. The design has the electrodes arranged in a cross-hatched pattern with one layer of rows and one layer of columns that intersect at small organic diodes of the kind used in the electronics giant’s popular curved televisions, each of which corresponds to a pixel.
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The implementation closely matches the design goals that UCLA’s researchers laid out for the latter stages of their project at the time of its announcement, suggesting Samsung is somehow involved in the research. It’s much more likely than the possibility that the company merely bought the rights for the technology given that its filing reveals several important new features have been added to the original specification. Most notable is the protective layer individually applied to every pixel in order to increase the durability of the display.

Considering that the proof-of-concept shown to the public two years ago was already capable of stretching to twice its original size without suffering any damage, the coating should make Samsung’s iteration nigh-invulnerable to most of the dangers facing traditional electronics. That will enable the technology to find use in a wide range of applications, from rugged tablets for outdoor use to wall-mounted screens. But the company is focusing on only one in particular: Smart clothing. The filing indicates that a display based on its design could be embedded in a shirt and folded and unfolded just as if it were a part of the fabric.

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It’s unlikely Samsung’s engineers overlooked the fact that a piece of smart clothing would need to be capable of withstanding washing as well,  which seems to suggest that the technology is waterproof too on top of everything else. But that durability doesn’t come cheap, certainly not in such an early stage of development. As a result, stretchable displays will likely take years to become affordable enough for the average household.