Wristband Computing Is Closer Than You Think

A flexible OLED screen from Sony on display at CES 2009.

Wrist-mounted displays have long been the stuff of legend in science fiction. Whether it’s the Pip-Boy 3000 from Fallout 3 or Dick Tracy’s multifunction watch, the idea of having information within arms’ reach is very appealing. Thanks to new technology and the U.S. Army, a wristband display may be within our reach.

Most displays use Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD technology, which requires layers of light-emitting material, glass and filters, which makes for a cumbersome, rigid and power-hungry display that’s not practical, especially in a combat situation.

Enter the OLED, short for Organic Light Emitting Diode. OLEDs themselves are tiny dots of phosphorescent chemicals that light up when sent an electrical current. OLED displays provide crisp, clean images, but only use a fraction of the power consumed by a traditional LCD. Because OLEDs are chemical in nature (and therefore super-thin), it’s possible to put them in a slim, flexible package, like a display that wraps around your wrist.

Of course, there’s one problem right now: OLED displays are ridiculously hard to produce cheaply, which means that they’re dismissed out of hand for a lot of consumer product applications. That’s where the Army comes in. According to MIT Technology Review, the US Army has handed over a bunch of cash to L-3 Display Systems for a new display for soldiers. The prototype display that L-3 has provided for the Army is a handy 4.3 inches, and was used to stream a live feed from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle during its tests.

This prototype is only for men and women in uniform at the moment, but I’d bet that some enterprising company will take the initiative to bring something like this (or better) to consumers in the next few years. Of course, of you have a new iPod nano and a wrist strap, you can get a taste of this now.

[MIT Technology Review]

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