New transparent OLED displays could lead to navigation systems built into car windshields

For many the ideal form of in car electronics like GPS navigation systems and entertainment devices like TVs would be clear devices that only show up when in use. This type of technology could create GPS navigation display embedded into the windshield of a car so you can see a map without having to take your eyes off the road.

Researchers at Purdue University have created the first active matrix display that uses a new class of transparent transistors and circuits. The researchers say this is a first step towards flexible color monitors and “heads-up displays” in car windshields.

The transistors used in the display are made of nanowires, which are tiny cylindrical structures assembled on thin glass or plastic films. The nanowires used by the researchers for the display are as small as 20 nanometers or about a thousand times thinner than the average human hair.

The nanowires were used to create an OLED display that rivals current flat-panel TVs in brightness. David Janes, a researcher from Purdue University’s Birk Nanotechnology center and a professor at the school of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said, “This is a step toward demonstrating the practical potential of nanowire transistors in displays and for other applications.”

The researchers were able to show how to fabricate nanowire electronics at room temperature in a process that could be practical for commercial manufacturing according to Tobin J. Marks, a researcher working on the project.

The current production process for OLED electronics is complex and costly making OLED TVs and other OLED electronic devices difficult to make. This manufacturing difficulty is part of the reason Sony’s XEL-1 OLED TV cost so much and is in such short supply.

The researchers also say that the technology they have developed has uses other than displays. They say the technology could also be used to create antennas that aim microwave and radio signals more precisely than current antennas. These new antennas could make cell phone reception better and make eavesdropping on military communications more difficult.

One major challenge remains according to the researchers before the technology they developed can rival current TVs. Janes says, “Displays in television sets are able to illuminate a particular pixel located, say, in the 10th row, fifth column. We aren't able to do that yet. We've shown that we can select a whole row at a time, not a single OLED, but we're getting close."

The researchers created their nanowire transistors out of a semiconductor called indium oxide, considered a potential replacement for silicon in future transparent circuits. Electrodes used in the OLEDs are made up of these transistors and electrodes made from indium tin oxide and plastic capacitors.

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