In 2014 market tracking firm IHS predicted rapid growth in wearable displays, with an upsurge that would start in 2018. At the time the group bullet-pointed three challenges: good outdoor visibility, low power consumption, and flexible form factors. We’ve written before about work at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) on fiber organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that can be hand-woven into knitted garments.

The same team at KAIST has developed wearable displays that use OLEDs integrated with polymer solar cells (PSCs) that produce enough energy to power the displays. Professor Kyung Cheol Choi from the School of Electrical Engineering and his team also solved another challenge related to all garments: keeping them clean. Water usually damages electronics and is fatal to OLED materials, but Choi’s group developed a washable encapsulation barrier using atomic layer deposition (ALD) and spin coating. According to Choi, display modules with PSCs and OLEDs protected with the encapsulation barrier showed little change after being washed 20 times with 10-minute cycles. There was also no breakdown in the garment’s display properties after 30 days of use with bending and washing.

Because the KAIST-developed washable wearable displays can last longer than displays built on plastic, Choi believes this technology will speed the delivery of commercialized wearables. Whether you wear a garment that continuously shows your vital signs or advertises a brand, self-powered displays that can withstand wash cycles and daily wear and tear could be a significant addition to healthcare wearables. Perhaps someday in the future when you check into a hospital you’ll be issued a gown that keeps you warm and covered while it continuously collects and display your heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Let’s just hope it doesn’t tie in the back.