In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in flexible touchscreens. If a touchscreen is flexible, conventional wisdom should lead you to believe that it won’t crack or otherwise sustain damage when physically stressed. Rather, it will flex. As a result, flexible touchscreens could last longer than their hard, rigid counterparts.
Currently, however, no manufacturer has been successful in developing a flexible touchscreen. There are smartphones available with curved display interfaces, but none have a flexible touchscreen. That’s something researchers from the University of Florida (UF) are hoping to change with their newly proposed flexible touchscreen technology.
According to a recent report published by the Independent Florida Alligator, a team of researchers from the UF have proposed a new method for creating flexible touchscreens. After working on the project for nearly three years, the team discovered that embedding silver nanowires in a touchscreen allows for a flexible display interface.
As you may know, most touchscreens today use a conductive material known as indium tin oxide (ITO). The ITO allows touchscreen devices, including smartphones and tablets, to register touch commands by measuring changes in capacitance. When a user touches the display interface, his or her finger will absorb some of the electrostatic charge that’s emitted through the ITO. While ITO is effective at conducting electricity, though, it doesn’t perform well when bent.
If you bend a touchscreen containing ITO, it may fail to register your touch commands. This is because bending ITO reduces its electrical conductivity. And if a capacitive touchscreen isn’t able to conduct electricity, it won’t register your touch commands. UF researchers believe silver nanowires may offer a solution to this problem, as they are able to bend without suffering any meaningful loss of electrical conductivity.
While the use of silver nanowires may offer an effective solution for flexible touchscreens, there have been concerns about its safety. According to the report cited above, silver nanowires resemble the toxic material asbestos, which has been linked to over 125 million deaths. But researchers say that silver nanowires are, in fact, less toxic than the wires currently used in touchscreens.
“It is hard for the body to process [asbestos] because it is unbreakable. The consortium wanted to figure out if silver nanowires impose similar toxicity,” explained Devrah Arndt, a UF nanotoxicology postdoctoral researcher, when speaking about the proposed flexible touchscreen technology.
UF researchers hope their findings encourage manufacturers to develop flexible touchscreens using silver nanowires.