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Fraunhofer develops the first color OLED microdisplay for smart glasses, helmets, or other wearables

Fraunhofer's tiny color OLED screen consumes very little power (image: Fraunhofer)
Fraunhofer's tiny color OLED screen consumes very little power (image: Fraunhofer)
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology have developed the world's first color OLED microdisplay with ultra low power consumption. Those can be used for information we need right in front of our eyes at all times, like with smart glasses and other wearables, but have so far all been monochrome. By cutting the pixel size in half and utilizing CMOS technology, the Fraunhofer scientists have managed to deliver an OLED microdisplay that can show a mixture of green and red colors for the first time.

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From the Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology arm of the Fraunhofer research conglomerate that gave us the first 3D-printed prosthetic eye, now comes the first color OLED microdisplay. Previously, such tiny ultra low-power OLED panels were monochrome, but within the "Backplane"" project funded by the Saxon State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport, a color microdisplay was born. Based on the tried and true OLED-on-silicon technology, the screen is capable of utilizing red and green light emitting diodes for its pixels that have been cut in half from the usual size, ushering in the lowest power consumption of all such microdisplays so far, even monochrome ones.

Blue diodes are conspicuously absent from the press release, indicating that the microdisplay can only show the colors that mixing red and green allows. Blue OLEDs have notoriously shorter lifespan than reds and greens, making the display prone to burn-ins, so that might be one reason why the Fraunhofer researchers skipped using them in the first edition of the microdisplay. According to Philipp Wartenberg, department head IC and system design at Fraunhofer FEP, there are several possible applications for the first low-power color OLED microdisplay:

We can now offer ultra-low power OLED microdisplays that not only display simple information in yellow, but also convey additional information in the signal colors red and green, for example as a warning display in firefighters' helmets or for professional divers. The presentation of sensor data can also be fast and vivid. For example, a welder can always follow the thermal image at a weld seam, or a nurse in protective clothing with integrated sensors can immediately see if the patient has higher temperature. Visualizing heat differences was not possible with the ultra-low power microdisplays that were previously offered.

Besides those industrial applications, the researchers will also be showing the color OLED microscreen to smart wearable and headgear makers, mentioning smart glasses and fitness bands as potential target markets. The first OLED microdisplay able to show a color image will be showcased during the CES expo that is taking place between January 05 – 08, 2022 in Las Vegas, at the booth of the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), N 51139, in the Venetian Expo Center.

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Usage scenarios for the ultra lo-power color OLED microdisplay

New applications for multicolor OLED microdisplays

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP have succeeded in realizing a multicolor OLED microdisplay that consumes the lowest power of all available microdisplays with an extended range of applications compared to monochrome displays. This OLED microdisplay was realized within the "Backplane" project funded by the Saxon State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport (SMWA, funding reference: 100392259). It will be presented at CES, January 05 – 08, 2022, in Las Vegas/USA, at the joint booth of the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), No. 51139, at the Venetian Expo Center.

New applications for ultra-low power multicolor OLED microdisplays © Fraunhofer FEP. Photos: shutterstock and Claudia Jacquemin New applications for ultra-low power multicolor OLED microdisplays Wearables have become extremely widespread. Used as fitness wristbands, they measure body values during sports. In the industry, you no longer need cumbersome manuals. Instead, the data is displayed directly via smart glasses. Navigation while cycling is barely visible in the form of a tiny system that is located directly in front of the eye and guides us where we want to go. Of course, these systems have to consume very little power, because you don't want to get off your bike and recharge it in between.

The ultra-low power microdisplay platform for wearables, which is available from Fraunhofer FEP, is therefore designed for extremely low power consumption and is based on the proven OLED-on-silicon technology. These OLED microdisplays were previously only available in monochrome, which was sufficient for simple information displays at first. In order to expand the range of applications, a multicolor OLED microdisplay has now been researched within the "Backplane" project, which can display the color space of green, red and their mixed colors, and still requires less power than all other microdisplays. "We can now offer ultra-low power OLED microdisplays that not only display simple information in yellow, but also convey additional information in the signal colors red and green, for example as a warning display in firefighters´ helmets or for professional divers," explains Philipp Wartenberg, department head IC and system design at Fraunhofer FEP.

"The presentation of sensor data can also be fast and vivid. For example, a welder can always follow the thermal image at a weld seam, or a nurse in protective clothing with integrated sensors can immediately see if the patient has higher temperature. Visualizing heat differences was not possible with the ultra-low power microdisplays that were previously offered."

Wartenberg and his colleagues created an innovative display concept that allows multi-color and higher data rates by reducing the pixel size by half, is also extremely power-efficient, and is manufactured in the hitherto used CMOS technology.

The scientists are now looking forward to discussing the possibilities of the new display generation with industrial customers and adapting them to their requirements. The tiny ultra-low power OLED microdisplays enable extremely compact systems.

In collaboration with GLOBALFOUNDRIES Dresden, Module One LLC & Co. KG and digades GmbH, Fraunhofer FEP is currently researching a solution for low-power and high-resolution OLED microdisplays and quality cameras. The aim is an ultra-low power microdisplay backplane architecture in a deep-submicron CMOS process, thus significantly reducing the previously predominant area required by memory components for static RAM (SRAM).

Fraunhofer FEP at CES 2022 5. – 8. January 2022 Joint booth of Organic Electronics Association (OE-A) Booth no. 51139, Venetian Expo Center, Las Vegas/USA

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Daniel Zlatev
Daniel Zlatev - Tech Writer - 86 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2021
Wooed by tech since the industrial espionage of Apple computers and the times of pixelized Nintendos, Daniel went and opened a gaming club when personal computers and consoles were still an expensive rarity. Nowadays, fascination is not with specs and speed but rather the lifestyle that computers in our pocket, house, and car have shoehorned us in, from the infinite scroll and the privacy hazards to authenticating every bit and move of our existence.
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2021 12 > Fraunhofer develops the first color OLED microdisplay for smart glasses, helmets, or other wearables
Daniel Zlatev, 2021-12-19 (Update: 2021-12-19)