March 28, 2009:
The U.S. Army is trying to develop bomb proof computer displays (screens). With more electronics on the battlefield, there is a need for displays that don't break so easily. Commercial computer makers have "ruggedized" models of laptops, but the displays are still based on glass components. Same for everything from digital watches, to cell phones and PDAs. Civilian "rugged" and army infantry "rugged" are two different things. Even on a construction site, field work or a factory floor, a sturdier, shock proofed laptop will withstand most of the punishment it normally encounters. But the infantry have to deal with explosions (a common destroyer of computer displays), plus a degree of roughness rarely encountered in any civilian endeavor.
There has always been commercial research on "digital paper", but the demand was never large enough to attract a lot of research money. The existing display technology got the job done at an attractive price. Since the various digital paper technologies would produce a more "bomb proof", and much more expensive, display, it was not commercially viable. There was just not a big enough market for such a rugged electronic display. But now the U.S. Army believes they have a real need for this sort of thing, even if the displays cost several times what existing, glass based ones, do. There are several digital paper designs nearly ready for mass production. So the army put money into the Flexible Display Center (a university research operation) to get some of the more promising models out of the lab and onto the assembly line. Within 4-5 years, the army expects to have new flat panel displays that can take an explosion or two, and keep on shining. The new displays will also be, in some cases, literally "digital paper," and bendable. This makes it possible to put displays in more places, for more uses.