UCLA develops flexible OLED that can stretch to double its original size – and yet still keeps on working

by: Andrew GrushSeptember 26, 2013


Over the last several years, Samsung, LG and other tech firms have been teasing us with the idea of flexible display technology. Our imaginations have ran wild as we envision tablets that can fold to provide a kickstand of sorts, or smart watches that change form to become full-fledged smartphones.

In reality, these ideas are all eventually possible, but the tech just isn’t there yet. Instead, we will take baby steps towards this bold flexible/bendable/twistable future. If a rumor proves correct, the first step will be a Samsung-made curved display smartphone in October.

As for truly flexible, bendable, twistable displays that can keep bending and changing form without taking on noticeable damage? While these types of flexible displays do exist, they tend to only be able to handle so much before they become damaged – until now.

A research team from UCLA has created a prototype display technology that can not only fold, bend and twist, but is also highly durable and capable of stretching to a form that’s double its original size. Another cool thing about the UCLA display technology is that when it isn’t lit up, it is essentially transparent.

According to the team’s lead researcher Qibing Pei, the OLED-based display was even stretched 30 percent past its original size 1000 times and bent to an 180 degree angle, all with no adverse affects.

How does it work?

Basically, the display uses a special layered construction. The light comes for a single layer of electroluminescent polymer, which is then held between two transparent elastic composite electrode layers.

While the demo’d prototype might look like a single block of light, it also contains individual pixels.

As Extreme Tech puts it:

“The key to this is in the electrodes. They are composed of a network of silver nanowires combined with an insulating polymer. The layers are rotated 90 degrees from each other, forming a crosshatch pattern when viewed from above. Each intersection acts as a single pixel in the display.”

Tons of potential, but also plenty of roadblocks

The most obvious uses for the UCLA flexible OLED are in the mobile world, particularly in tablets that can fold into smartphones, smartphones that can be made smaller for better portability and wearable devices. The UCLA team also envisions medical and in-home use scenarios.

The sky is really the limit on what this kind of tech can eventually accomplish, but let’s not kid ourselves, there are very real roadblocks we will have to get over.

First, flexible technology is still in its infancy when it comes to commercial applications. Creating a workable basic prototype is one thing, getting it ready for mass production is another.

Second, even if a display is truly flexible, bendable and nearly indestructible – there are other components involved in electronic devices. That means it will be necessary to have flexible plastics, batteries, antennas and other components.

Bottom-line, mobile technology is in for some pretty awesome changes in the next few years, but we aren’t quite there just yet.

What do you think, will foldable/bendable displays be the norm in the not-too-distant future? Conversely is our mobile future more likely to revolve around devices like Google Glass?

  • MasterMuffin

    Bendable displays or virtual displays. It’s going to be nice :)

  • Ruz

    but is the quality maintained after streching?

    • Andrew Grush

      According to the team behind it, yes – as long as it isn’t stretched too far (which is anything over about double its original size). It will even return to its original shape.

  • jjordan

    This has got to be the future of mobile tech. Imagine if you could stretch your phone screen into a 10 inch tablet to watch an HD movie then poof bend it back and stick it in your pocket!!! Bye bye tablets

    • supercalifragilistic…

      I want this too.

      (I never hear stories about this, but it must be happening: disgruntled high school student sitting in one of the lame classes–sees some sort of screen in the class room and beams [email protected] to it. Other students snicker as teacher struggles to find the culprit. Does this kind of thing happen these days?)

  • E

    Wallpaper like TV

  • Cole Raney

    Yay University research programs. Right now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is doing research on batteries in the Illinois Geometry lab. I even wanted to do the research, but I was too late.

  • Hi guys,

    This is not an OLED device, it is a LEC (Polymer LEC, PLEC):


    These are different technologies, being confused by UCLA’s press release…