The ‘Twisty’ touch screen is so thin that it can be deployed like a tube
Scientists have created an ultra-thin flexible electronic material for ‘touch screens of the future’ that can be rolled up in a tube and printed like a newspaper.
Australian researchers developed the material from tin and indium oxide and used a liquid metal printing technique to convert it into a two-dimensional film.
The touch-sensitive material is 100 times thinner than existing touchscreen materials used in smartphones and tablets and is so flexible that it can be rolled up like a tube.
Smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola have recently launched their own curved screens that can bend without breaking, but the RMIT team says its version even twists.
The team has developed a functional touch screen prototype from the material and has applied for a patent to commercialize the technology.
A sample of ultrafine and ultraflexible electronic material that could be printed and displayed as a newspaper for future touch screens
“We take an old material and transform it from the inside to create a new version that is extremely thin and flexible,” said lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.
“You can fold it, you can fold it, and it could make it much cheaper and more efficient than the slow and expensive way in which we currently manufacture touch screens.”
The nano-thin sheets are highly conductive and truly two-dimensional, which means that they consist of individual layers of atoms, which makes them super thin.
“Turning it in two dimensions also makes it more transparent, so it lets in more light,” said Dr. Daeneke.
To create the new conductive sheet, a team led by the RMIT University used a common thin film on the touch screens of cell phones and reduced it from 3D to 2D, using ‘liquid metal chemistry’
“This means that a cell phone with a touch screen made of our material would use less energy, extending the battery life by approximately 10 percent.”
The current methods of manufacturing transparent films for standard touch screens is a slow, energy-efficient and expensive process, performed in a vacuum chamber to remove surrounding air.
“The good thing is that our approach does not require expensive or specialized equipment, it could even be done in the kitchen of a home,” said Dr. Daeneke.
The nano-thin sheet is easily compatible with existing electronic technologies and, due to its high flexibility, could be manufactured through roll-to-roll (R2R) processing like the newspaper.
The research team that created the new material, from left to right, Dr. Robi Datta, Dr. Torben Daeneke and Dr. Nitu Syed at RMIT, Melbourne, Australia
Indium and tin oxide (ITO), a colorless ‘ternary’ compound, is made of three compounds: indium, tin and oxygen.
It has high eclectic conductivity and transparency in a range of colors.
Most touch screens of smartphones are made of ITO, which is very conductive but also, in its 3D form, quite fragile.
To create the new type of atomically thin ITO, the researchers began by heating an alloy of indium and tin to 392 ° F (200 ° C), at which point it becomes liquid ITO.
Then it was passed on a surface to print nano-thin sheets of indium and tin oxide.
These 2D sheets have the same chemical composition as the standard ITO but a different crystalline structure, which gives them new mechanical and optical properties.
The new ITO absorbs only 0.7 percent of the light compared to 5 to 10 percent of the standard conductive glass.
This means that more than 99 percent would be reflected in the smartphone’s line of sight for a clearer and sharper screen.
“There is no other way to make this material completely flexible, conductive and transparent apart from our new liquid metal method,” said Dr. Daeneke.
“Until now it was impossible, people simply assumed that it could not be done.”
The material could also be used in many other optoelectronic applications, such as LEDs and other touch screens, as well as in cells for solar powered devices and smart windows.
“We are excited to be at the stage where we can explore opportunities for business collaboration and work with the relevant industries to bring this technology to market,” said Daeneke.
The research team, composed of scientists from UNSW, Monash University and ARC Center of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics, has published its method in Nature Electronics.
On the left is an image of how Samsung’s current Galaxy Fold collapses, while an image on the right shows an unnamed device that folds vertically
Bendy smart phone screens have just begun to market: Korean tech giant Samsung launched its Galaxy Fold last year, which folds a central hinge inside the screen.
However, the phone was beset by technical problems in the period prior to its worldwide launch.
Motorola’s foldable renewal of its iconic Razr phone is now also available for pre-order in the UK.
But the technology is not cheap: the phones cost the British £ 1,800 and a whopping £ 2,356 respectively.