The largest flexible color display is making its debut, showing that it's possible to make screens that are more durable than glass in sizes practical for any computing device. The project was part of a mandate from the U.S. Department of Defense to build a display that could flex and show color video while withstanding tough, battlefield conditions.

The display, built by the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University, is called an organic light emitting display, or OLED. It uses a more advanced version of the thin film transistor technology that people see in cellphones and televisions. It's 7.4 inches across, about the size of a Blackberry Playbook.

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The use of mixed oxides is key. Most liquid crystal displays (LCDs) use a form of silicon, which doesn't bend easily without distorting or breaking. The mixed oxides can be bent and they don't need exotic manufacturing techniques. That's important as factories that build TFT displays are expensive — there are only a few in the world.

It's also been difficult for companies to commercialize flexible-display technology. One attempt, the Que e-reader, from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, was unveiled in 2010. But it was later cancelled.

The Flexible Display Center will be showing off the new display at the Society for Information Display conference in Boston from June 5-7.

Credit: Jann Kaminski, ASU