Cheap, transparent electrode film will make smartphone displays shatterproof

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Akron, Ohio, is home to more than just LeBron James’ favorite burger joint. It’s also home to the University of Akron College of Polymer Science, where they’ve figured out out how make cheaper, more resilient capacitive displays for out devices. They’re even going to far as to say that they could make our precious, ever-growing screens shatterproof.

A lot of the displays used in smartphones and tablets today are made with Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) coated glass, and they can be quite brittle — and a bit on the expensive side when you’re looking at a phone’s total Bill of Materials.

The Akron team, led by Dr. Yu Zhu, came up with a method of integrating a mesh of transparent electrodes with a polymer. The film is flexible, and it will still function properly and return to its original shape after being bent 1,000 times. That’s nowhere close to the kind of abuse that the bendable display Nokia and Advanced Film Devices just showed off can withstand, but it’s a promising start.

Its ability to flex is a big reason Zhu is excited about the film’s potential, and not just because it could be used on curved-screen wearables and bendy phones like the LG G Flex. It means that the conductive polymer film can be mass-produced on rolls, which helps keep manufacturing costs down.

If what they’ve accomplished in Akron leads to cheaper displays that aren’t as likely to break, the film would make it much more palatable for smartphone manufacturers to follow HTC’s lead and offer free screen replacements. And, perhaps more importantly, we probably wouldn’t need to request one anyway if Zhu and his team can deliver something that’s genuinely shatterproof.

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