The University of Cincinnati recently announced a new e-Display design, and it's a huge breakthrough for electronic devices called Electrofluidic Display Technology (EFD). Created through a collaboration between U of C, Dupont, Sun Chemical and Gamma Dynamics, it's promising excellent readability in bright sunlight, high contrast colour and the ability to show high speed content and massively reduced power consumption.
For a really good overview of what EFD is all about, here's a blurb from the article over at UC.edu:
Before describing UC's new "zero-power" design, it's helpful to understand the basic design of existing electronic devices.
Think of an e-reader as a bunch of micro-sized buckets (or pixels) of mixed black and white paint, where you can move the black and white pigments to the top or the bottom of the bucket. Just like mixing paint, the process is not fast. That's somewhat close to how today's e-readers work. The slow movement of these particles forms the text and grayscale images you see on an e-reader. These devices use practically no power unless you are switching the screen. It's actually making use of ambient light to make the particles visible. When the user turns the device on or off or switches a page, he's electronically "mixing the paint" (or pixels) to create the overall image or text page.
Faster, colour-saturated, high power devices like a computer's liquid crystal display screen, an iPad or a cell phone require high power, in part, because they need a strong internal light source within the device (that "backlights" the screen) as well as colour filters in order to display the particles as colour/moving images. The need for an internal light source within the device also means visibility is poor in bright, natural light.
The new "zero power" design combines the best features of both these kinds of devices. It requires low power because it makes use of ambient light vs. a strong, internal light source within the device.
Basically the new technology uses ambient light to light the display through a mirror effect from electrodes compressed between layers of oil and a pigment dispersion layer. The EFD screen is the one at right in the above photo. I'll come out and say that this is high sorcery from my perspective.
Conservative estimates have us seeing this type of display within 3 years in a limited capacity. Hopefully within 5 for more robust (and mobile) use, is my estimate. The possibilities are exciting. My current smartphone, for instance, will barely go a full day at work with moderate usage from a full battery. Admittedly, that's with the screen on for much of that time and my screen generally accounts for 75%+ of my battery drain.
With EFD technology you could be looking at phone that actually looked better in sunlight and lasted days, weeks, on a full charge. Your iPad could do the same, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Running multiple LCD's for a PC and LCD/LED televisions at home can get expensive, especially if you consume a lot of media. You could cut those costs down to a fraction while introducing more displays (fridge/stove status, anyone? Heater display, etc) if you're into that sort of thing. I certainly am.
It's a design that has almost limitless potential, and until this was announced seemed the stuff of science fiction. We live in interesting times. Check out the UC story for more details.