Monday, 21 February 2011

Your Flat screen is fat

I recently attended an event organised by Chemicals NorthWest on Printable electronics. You may not have heard much about this emerging technology, but it is going to change a lot of the world around us. The sector covers quite a broad range of activities, but the key factor is (as you might expect) electronic components that can be printed on surfaces in a similar way to printing newspapers on paper. Or perhaps slightly closer, printed wallpaper.
There are a myriad of related issues and concepts, such as organic polymer batteries, light sources and the like, but essentially when this technology comes through we can expect to have our televisions as wallpaper in our living rooms – or potentially on the windows. And our energy produced by thin films of photocells on our roof or any other surface (flat or not)

One of the nice things about this is that it is an area where British companies are in with a good chance of establishing a strong position. This is a disruptive technology, so all the companies trying to develop it are pretty much starting from the same position. Ultimately the devices might be assembled in the far east, which is a shame for UK manufacturing, but the real money could be in the design and manufacture of raw materials and components, and the use of design of the end product. In these areas UK businesses are well placed.
Although I was aware of the technology, I was not aware of how advanced it is until this conference. We were shown a Sony OLED TV – which had better colours than most HD TVs, and was at most half the thickness of an IPod. And this dates from about 3 years ago.
The world will look more like Minority Reports than many of us expected, and it will be with us far sooner than I expected. This is expected to be a market worth hundreds of Billions by the end of the decade.
Of course, at the moment it is all quite staggeringly expensive – but that can change over time. And with it will come an even more futuristic world than we can imagine. Of course, when it does arrive we will take it for granted in about six months.
The opportunities for British business are significant. Dr. Chris Drew of Soris compared the state of this industry to that of pharmaceuticals in the 1950s – fast paced, very high specifications, very technical, great potential, still largely undeveloped. The UK was able to take advantage of that – let’s hope we can do the same again.

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