The next generation of flexible wearable devices is getting help from an unexpected quarter – the silver nanowire, which is proving to be cost-effective for producing touchscreen products.
As wearables grow in popularity, designers struggle with offering flexible products. So far, notebooks and tablets needed to have tough, flat surfaces that were able to survive frequent wear and tear. Although designers have been largely successful in mastering this technology, wearable products pose a different challenge. Humans attaching wearables to their bodies want flexible products that can follow the curvature of their body part. Touch-enabled products are taking a leap forward with the use of materials such as silver nano-wires.
Apart from the mind-boggling reduction in electronic devices, wearability is the next best thing already happening in personal computing devices. That also means an evolution in the human interface. Therefore, people prefer flexibility, not only for the display glass and the electronics, but for the interface as well. In turn, this is leading to virtually unlimited design flexibility along with durability and portability.
With flexible touch comes flexible ergonomics. For example, phone screens are now unbreakable – when dropped, they flex rather than shatter. Therefore, it is now possible to roll up a seven-inch tablet and carry it in the pocket. A display could easily wrap around the arm or a huge public display could wrap around a pillar or a building, just as easily as a neon light can.
The clunky boxes that passed for consumer electronic devices are no longer in vogue. Today, consumers prefer ever-thinner laptops and tablets. Even kiosks and monitors therein are now sleeker and aesthetically more pleasing. This is leading to a greater demand for thinner and lighter components. Additionally, electronic components with lower mass are more durable and rugged.
Apart from being thin, light, visible in different ambient light conditions, highly responsive, touchscreens also need to be brighter, stronger, more sensitive, consume lower power and most importantly, be lower in cost. Since most touchscreens are of the capacitive type, they typically have a see-through conductor as a screen. This very thin layer of material has to conduct electricity while remaining lucid. The transparency allows light from the display underneath to shine through the screen. At present, Indium Tin Oxide or ITO is the legacy material used for the conducting screen, but this has limited flexibility, transparency and conductivity, when compared to silver nano-wires.
Touch interfaces made of silver nanowires are showing great promise on all accounts. This material will help to make forthcoming generations of touch interfaces more responsive, whether they are small or large. They will also be brighter and be visible in all ambient lighting. All this requires more transparency, higher transmission ability and higher conductivity – things that silver nano-wires can easily deliver.
Applications for transparent conductors are not limited to LCDs alone. They are required for OLEDs, shutters for 3D TVs, thin-film photovoltaic cells and future products that the world can only imagine for now. With better light transmission, higher conductivity and no side effects such as pattern or moire-fringe visibility, silver nano-wires are set to introduce all these and more at a lower cost than the traditional technologies presently can.