Flex OLED interface

Long-time readers of Health Tech Insider know that we pay a lot of attention to the user interface for wearable devices. There’s no one right answer; touch, gesture, speech recognition, and even brain-hardware interfaces all have a part to play. Still, we’re always on the lookout for a new development, and we’ve got a great one to report. To date, most displays are rigid; they can not be bent back and forth dynamically. Almost all “flexible” displays in commercial production are set to conform to a fixed curve, whether it’s a wrist or curved television screen.

High quality color displays on flexible plastic substrates are becoming practical, however, and researchers are read to take advantage of the flexibility. Researchers at the Human Media Lab (HML) at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, have added strain sensors to the back of a flexible OLED display created by LG. This lets the system’s processor detect when the display is bent forward or backward (convex or concave, from the user’s perspective). One simple application of this is for reading digital books. Flex the screen towards you, and the pages flip forward, much like they would with a physical book. Bend it away, and they flip back toward the start of the book. The researchers have also added haptic feedback, producing vibrations to correspond with the flipping pages. This same set of input and feedback features can be used to control other apps and functions, including the popular Angry Birds game.

I often say that wearable Health Tech devices need to “disappear” into our lives. One key to this invisibility is to have user interfaces that are intuitive and that require the minimum attention and interaction. A bendable device coupled with a display may be just the ticket for some applications.