Material Gains

Expanding Tech Access

Our passion for technology can improve services and life experiences for everyone.

Many of us working in the electronics business, wherever we are in the value chain – from design to manufacturing, as well as marketing, sales and support – are more than simple creators of technology. We are also fans, adopters and evangelists. As a species, we have always pursued technologies with the goal of making our lives better.

It’s in the interest of humanity that more people can use the technologies we create. Many powerful technologies that define the world we live in today began life as the invention and plaything of a small number of expert users: search engines, digital image sensing, blockchain, AI, even the internet itself, started this way but have become widely used to the advantage of all. This technological democratization is not a new phenomenon. The invention of the printing press is often cited as an early example. In addition to expanding and accelerating the spread of information, its arrival also enhanced the accuracy of the data shared by reducing human error.

For as long as there is invention, action will be needed to mitigate the divide that separates the technological haves and have-nots. The World Economic Forum points out that digital technologies are a driver for fairness and justice, and that equalizing access is essential to safeguard security and human rights. We can celebrate the fact that information services, banking, e-government, and e-health are already widely available and affordable, even in regions that have minimal fixed infrastructures.

But more can be done, such as broadening access to cutting-edge user experiences that are set to redefine the way we interact with our computers, phones and smart devices. The quality of the human-machine interface influences our willingness to engage with the applications and services these devices bring to our lives. Advances in display technology have recently enabled great strides in this area, and these continue to gather pace.

Despite recent rapid progress in natural language processing, thanks to deep learning and large-scale datasets, which allow us to have fluent conversations with computers, I am sure that electronic displays will remain a pervasive and powerful user-interface technology for a long time to come. While we can expect voice-based user interfaces to continue improving from their current state, crisp displays that can offer carefully designed menus, animation, 3-D effects, and vibrant color will remain compelling and easy to use.

Display manufacturers have been presenting prototype transparent displays for many years, although the results have given some cynics reason to question whether worthwhile applications for these really exist. At this year’s CES Expo in January, however, a transparent MicroLED display took the state of the art to a new level of vibrancy and image quality, offering wide viewing angles and impressive performance even in difficult lighting conditions.

MicroLED production is known to be slow and expensive, relying on individual picking and placement of the tiny LED emitters. If properly transparent displays like this can be commercialized, however, their effect could greatly expand access to technologies such as augmented reality (AR). We can imagine these displays embedded in windows and glass doors, allowing casual access to location-based services, tourist information, interactive advertising, product visualization, and other consumer experiences. The first AR pilot programs, using smart eyewear, engaged a relatively small number of early adopters, concentrated in specific, typically urban areas. Only these privileged few were able to experience its power before the program was halted and subsequently became an industrial tool that will naturally have a narrowly defined role and a small, expert user base.

Virtual reality, of the type we see delivered through headsets like the Oculus Rift, has a broader audience among gamers and for activities like property sales and fitness. The cost of the equipment makes this more than just a pocket-money toy, however, and its use is a personal experience limited to the individual wearer. 

Transparent displays can now make these experiences more widely and easily accessible than ever. They can be available to anyone, on an ad hoc basis, with no need to buy or borrow eyewear or headgear, or even commit to a subscription. The possibilities for these kinds of out-of-home experiences have been very limited until now as conventional LCD technologies cannot equal the sophistication and clean aesthetic appearance now possible with MicroLED and similar transparent OLED (OLED T) displays.

Transparent displays also have a great deal to offer in automotive applications. Here, the main benefits are to improve safety and usability, especially when considered with companion technologies like gesture recognition. Traditionally, heads-up displays have projected information onto the windshield, offering an improvement in control by enabling the driver to absorb information while keeping their eyes on the road. Now, data can be presented directly on a display in the driver’s field of view, offering much better image quality and replacing the bulky projector setup.

While we will, of course, soon be having instinctive conversations with computers everywhere, visual interaction is deeply ingrained in our lives, and we will continue to seek better and better experiences. Human history, and our industry, have a long history of technological democratization, expanding access to innovations that make up-to-the-minute services available to all and truly improve our quality of life. Tremendous opportunities still abound to enrich our interactions with machines and, ultimately, to improve the way we can interact with the world around us and each other.Article ending bug

Alun Morgan is technology ambassador at Ventec International Group (; His column runs monthly.