A wearable device can serve one or both of two different functions; it can gather data, or it can disseminate data. If it disseminates the information, it can do this by passing it along to some other device that can display it (such as a smartphone) or it can display it by itself. One problem is that once you get beyond a simple beeper or some LEDs that glow in one color or another, creating a display for a wearable device can get expensive quickly. LCDs and OLEDs require sophisticated substrates and complex fabrication processes in clean room conditions. If we’re going to get to low-cost wearable devices that can provide direct feedback to the user, we’re going to need a new kind of display.

Prelonic Technologies may have the answer. The company yas developed an electrochromic display that changes color when an electrical current is applied. The amazing detail is that the display can be printed directly on plain paper or cardboard. There is no need for special glass or plastic film substrates. The display also does not have a cover film. All the components of the display can be printed. Not only can they be printed, but they can be printed using standard procedures using commercially available materials. There is no “unobtanium” involved in this technology.

The result is a thin, solid state display device that can be produced at a remarkably low cost. It’s not suitable for an active matrix display (the kind with lots of discrete pixels), but it works fine for segmented displays to show letters and numbers. The company is working on bringing this new technology to market. It’s an easy step to envision how this same technology could be used to print displays on finely woven fabric as well, without the need for complex planarizing layers to provide a smooth surface.