Electrowetting – coming to a screen near you
Whilst electrowetting sounds like a medical condition, it is actually the ability to modify the wetting property of certain hydrophobic surfaces through the use of an electrical charge. This phenomenon was first observed by Gabriel Lippmann as far back as 1875, but it was not until 1981 that the term ‘electrowetting’ was first used when research was conducted in to finding a fluid transistor for use in displays.
Whilst television producers pursued the use of Gas Plasma, LED (and recently OLED), further research and development has been taking place in to electrowetting technology. Very basically, it involves the manipulation of tiny beads of coloured oil inside pixels by means of an electrical charge. Most eReaders on the market use this technology, in black and white, and it is often referred to as e-ink. One of the two disadvantages, thus far, has been the restriction to black and white pixels, and a refresh rate of up to two seconds a page, making video an impossibility.
However, a Dutch company, Liquavista, claims to have solved these two problems. It hopes that its coloured screens, using electrowetting, will be incorporated in to a range of devices from 2011. “You certainly could see this technology in your smartphone, in your mobile phone, in your web tablet, in your PC, in your notebook,” said Guy Demuynck, head of the company. Their screens are up to four times more energy efficient than an LED screen, allow refresh rates of up to 60 times per second (making video a reality), and they use colour without the need for backlighting. It is hoped that this will mean laptops will only need charging every few days, rather than every few hours.
It has been suggested that at last paper-thin displays used on advertising hoardings and even as wallpaper may be upon us. As always, the success of this technology will depend on price. At least it meets the growing demand for devices which consume less energy and that on its own may lead to demand.