Transparent electronics show how Samsung’s flexible smartphone could work

iPad 10 could fold up and fit in your pocket.
iPad 10 could fold up and fit in your pocket.
Image: UCLA
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Taking one more step toward a future of flexible gadgets, Samsung will soon release a phone with a curved screen, reports the Wall Street Journal. The technology that makes Samsung’s current lineup of curved televisions and putative curved phones possible is something called Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) which, unlike traditional flat-panel displays, consist of elements that emit light directly and do not require a backlight.

Meanwhile, further up the research pipeline, scientists at UCLA are showing off just what such flexible displays are capable of. Their invention, which is very much in the prototype stage, pairs OLEDs with transparent electronic elements “made of a network of silver nanowires inlaid into a rubbery polymer.”

Such displays can be bent, twisted and otherwise abused without losing their original dimensions or power to emit light. Samsung itself has been showing off prototypes of a flexible display it calls YOUM, and there have even been rumors that it will soon release a limited-edition smartphone with one. There’s one problem with both the UCLA work and Samsung’s ambitions, however—OLEDs are ruined by even small amounts of moisture.

So until scientists can crack a much more mundane problem than flexible displays themselves—how to keep something flexible completely cut off from the humidity present in our atmosphere—the displays are likely to remain a research curiosity.

(Thanks to Christoph Möller for inspiring this piece.)