Army opens center to research flexible computer displays
February 8, 2005
TEMPE, Ariz. (Army News Service, Feb. 8, 2005) - The Army officially opened a "Flexible Display Center" at Arizona State University Feb. 4 to develop thin computer screens that bend.
Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, joined Arizona state and university officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new center. Bolton said flexible, lightweight displays will have an endless array of military and commercial uses.
"Military applications include computer screens that could be integrated as part of a Soldier's uniform or rolled up and carried in the Soldier's pocket, and vehicle displays that are thinner, lighter, more rugged and consume less power," Bolton said.
The Flexible Display Center is the result of a $43.7-million cooperative agreement between the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Arizona State University. The agreement, signed in February 2004, has a performance period of five years with an option for an additional $50 million over an added five-year period.
Although the Army provides core funding for the center, the center's focus is on commercial applications. The Army is leading the effort because there is strong overlap between military needs and potential civilian markets.
The displays are essentially extremely thin computer screens, that will be "integrated with computation, communications and global positioning subsystems," said Army Research Laboratory Director John Miller, "to significantly enhance the Soldier's situational awareness, survivability and effectiveness."
Bolton called the development of the FDC a milestone.
"The Army's flexible display center, a unique collaboration of large and small businesses, the university and the Army, will provide our Soldiers and our nation with revolutionary information technology capabilities," Bolton said.
Bolton said he remembered the primitive displays used in cockpits when he served as an Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam, saying he flew with computer displays that consisted of a flat glass panel.
"All that is about to change," Bolton said, adding that maybe next year he'll be watching the Superbowl on an FD screen.
Michael Crow, ASU president, said the new technology could improve situational awareness in the future for Soldiers like former NFL star and ASU alumnus Spc. Pat Tillman, who died last year while serving with an Army Ranger unit in Afghanistan.
"The FDC brings together academia, industry and government to develop what, in essence, will be revolutionary information portals - devices that are small, lightweight, rugged and consume very little power, but they will be very powerful in that they will hold the key to successful military operations - real-time information," Crow said.
J.D. Hayworth, representative from Arizona's fifth congressional district said the development of the FDC was about immediacy.
"This center is about bringing the technology to the warfighter - now!" he said. "Whatever the war's duration, our mission is to ensure that we provide technology now to ensure freedom for the future."
Brig. Gen. Roger Nadeau of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said his goal is to use technology to take care of Soldiers.
"I need to provide them the best that money and technology can procure," he said. "Flexible displays are the next revolution in information technology that will enable lighter weight, lower power, more rugged systems for portable and vehicle applications."
Nadeau said flexible display technology will enable new applications for the Soldier and Army platforms that cannot be realized with current glass-based displays.
The new applications will include body-worn displays that conform to the uniform, displays that can be rolled-up and put in a pocket when not in use and unrolled for large-area, high information content, as well as many other applications that Army engineers and scientists are now considering.
Dr. Gregory Raupp, the FDC's director, said the technology will ultimately be developed to the commercial level.
"There are multiple technological challenges to making these devices fully flexible, lightweight and extremely low power, but we have the right university, industry and government team in place and we are confident we can meet those challenges," he said.
"The outstanding capabilities of our facility and its manufacturing R&D infrastructure will enable us to work side-by-side with our partners to intensively develop new breakthrough technologies," he said.
(Editor's note: Maj. Desiree Wineland, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)