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LG’s Stretchable Screen Promises a Future of Shatter-Proof Tech

A person demonstrating the flexibility of LG's new 12-inch high-res OLED panel.

Image: LG

The price of gadgets is only going to continue to increase, making the sting of accidentally dropping your smartphone or tablet and watching the screen shatter to thousands of pieces even more painful. But what if screens were the most durable part of a touchscreen device? That’s a future I’m ready for, and one that LG is diligently working on.

It seems like there’s no end to the benefits of OLED screens. They consume less power, they allow devices to be made thinner and lighter, and in terms of image quality, they far outperform LCDs and older display technologies, with vibrant colors and eye-pleasing levels of contrast. Unlike LCD panels, OLED screens can also be engineered to be bendable and malleable, without hindering their performance or causing any permanent damage.

We’ve already seen devices like TVs and computer displays with a permanent curve to better fill a user’s peripheral vision, and even screens that can be flattened back out again for users who want to frequently switch between the two display modes. But LG is working to bring the flexibility of OLEDs to smaller devices, and today revealed the world’s first 12-inch panel that’s both flexible and stretchable, like a giant piece of rubber band, improving its ability to survive wear and tear.

A person demonstrating the stretchability of LG's new 12-inch high-res OLED panel.

Image: LG

The 12-inch panel can display full-color RGB images (LG doesn’t specify exactly how many colors it’s capable of reproducing) and a resolution of 100PPI. That’s a bit behind the resolution of screens like the 12.9-inch panel in the iPad Pro, which hits 264PPI, but drop that iPad onto a sidewalk and you’ll probably wish you had LG’s latest and greatest inside it.

Outside of the rigid frame of a tablet or a desktop display, this 12-inch panel can be stretched a full two inches to 14 inches diagonally, and then snap back to its original size without requiring a warranty claim. Its underlying structure uses S-shaped micro wire structures that act like springs to accommodate the stretching, and while the technology isn’t quite at the point where you can crumble up a tablet and stuff it in your pocket like a handkerchief—it’s tethered by a ribbon cable to electronics that provide power and drive the image on-screen—LG believes it’s one step-closer to expanding the potential use cases for OLED displays.

Do you remember when BMW wrapped an SUV in color-changing, black and white E Ink screens earlier this year? Imagine that car instead becoming a rolling animated billboard at night, but one that can easily survive a minor fender bender when other drivers inevitably get distracted.

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