Is necessity driving technology, or is technology creating new demand? This question has been pushing technological development forward for the last 50 years at an ever-increasing rate. At the cutting edge of this development has been a collection of companies who, while they may not be as well known as the consumer giants such as Sony, Samsung, Intel and Microsoft, are nevertheless just as responsible for pushing the boundaries of innovation and technological development. In fact, in many cases those consumer giants have taken inspiration from these smaller Research and Development companies, recognising their contribution to the evolution of technology as nothing short of revolutionary.
The next generation in electronic development is already happening – flexible electronics. This field could effectively transform our daily lives, influencing everything from smartphones and display technology through to ‘wearable electronics’. There are a growing number of firms involved in flexible technology, so here five of the most influential organisations working in the field right now:
1. Plastic Logic
Location: Cambridge and Germany
CEO: Indro Mukerjee
What they do: Plastic Logic is the recognised leader in organic thin-film transistors (OTFT) and is at the forefront of research and investment in plastic electronics. This start-up company has led the way when it comes to developing high-quality, shatterproof, ultra-thin and ultra-lightweight plastic displays, and has industrialised the process and manufacturing to make these a viable option for a huge range of applications, including smartphones and wearables.
Why are they important: Plastic Logic has continually driven the flexible technology field forward with a series of revolutionary developments, including solutions for sensor and other non-display applications. These could open up some astonishing design possibilities, and are set to transform existing markets such as wearable and mobile devices, signage, and the automotive industry, as well as many others.
Location: Dresden, Germany and offices in Korea and Japan
CEO: Gildas Sorin
What they do: Novaled GmbH is a leader in the research, development and commercialisation of technologies and materials that enhance the performance of OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) and other organic electronics. They work with companies like Plastic Logic and are currently the only company in the OLED industry to be licensing and selling organic conductivity doping technology.
Why they are important: Their developments are specifically aimed at mass display products, and their products are now gracing some of the most important institutions in the world. Their display technology incorporating OLEDs could transform how we receive information in our daily lives, from advertising displays and bill boards to information display screens in a range of environments.
Location: Grenoble, France
CEO: Jean-Yves Gomez
What they do: ISORG is the leading and pioneer company in organic photodetectors and large area image sensors in printed electronics. ISORG has developed technology that can transform plastic and glass into smart surfaces that can be read in any light. These new sensors are flexible, thin and lightweight with low current consumption, making them energy-efficient. They offer unique advantages over traditional image sensors in terms of sensing area, cost per area ratio and mechanical integration.
Why they are important: These sensors allow users to develop further innovative products that could be used in challenging environments such as medical and industrial applications, as well as consumer markets.
4. Flextech Alliance
Location: San Jose, California
CEO: Michael Ciesinski
What they do: Flextech Alliance is a little different from the other organisations in this list in that they are an alliance of companies involved in flexible electronic development, rather than a unique, individual company. According to their mission statement they are “dedicated to fostering the growth, profitability and success of the electronic display and flexible, printed electronics supply chain”.
Why they are important: The Flextech Alliance encourages industry, academia and research organisations to collaborate to advance the field of flexible electronics, from R&D right through to commercial production.
5. Universal Display Corporation
Location: Ewing, New Jersey USA
CEO: Steven V. Abramson
What they do: Universal Display Corporation is a leader in the research, development and commercialisation of OLED technologies and materials. The company has worked closely with a number of academia research development teams, including Princeton University, the University of the Southern California and the University of Michigan.
Why they are important: UDC is one of the longest established companies working in the OLED field, and has built up strong international relationships with a number of major consumer manufactures including Panasonic, Samsung, Epson, Sony and LG. This heavyweight clout has enabled the company to change the way consumer-based manufacturers look at flexible technology and how it can be incorporated into everyday products.