Breakthrough 'Zero Power' Display Can Do Color and Video, Too

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It sounds too good to be true, but researchers at the University of Cincinnati are convinced that they've developed a revolutionary electrofluidics display that combines the color and video capabilities of an LCD with the low power consumption of e-ink.

The technology, which was seven years in the making, sandwiches reflective electrodes between two layers of liquid and lets ambient light do the work.


Behind the display screen are two layers of liquid (oil and a pigment dispersion fluid like an inkjet fluid). Between the two layers are reflective electrodes. Think of these electrodes as a highly reflective mirror.

Ambient light enters through the display screen and through the first layer of liquid and hits the reflective electrodes. When the light hits that reflective electrode, it bounces back out to the viewer's eye, creating the perception of a bright, color-saturated image…or text or video… .

A small electric charge powers the movement of these oil and pigment-dispersion liquids. The movement occurs between a bottom layer behind the reflective electrodes and a top layer in front of the reflective electrodes. When the pigmented substance is positioned in the "top" layer (sandwiched between the ambient light and reflective electrodes), it creates a reflected ray of colored light which combines with literally millions of ambient light rays to produce a full-color display.


Changing what's displayed requires power, of course—and displaying video will require considerably more than changing the page of an ebook—but after that, like e-ink, the image can be displayed indefinitely with zero power. UC researchers say that their screens are two thirds brighter than Qualcomm's Mirasol displays, which have also promised to bring low-power color ereaders to market sometime next year.

The displays can be manufactured with existing facilities, and researchers expect them to be used for applications like displaying product info in supermarkets within three years. Glad they're getting to the important stuff first. [UC]