From Kindles to Protecting Tanks: The Different Uses for Electrophoretic Displays

From Kindles to Protecting Tanks: The Different Uses for Electrophoretic Displays

Dr Matthew Roberts - Senior Consultant, Data Exploitation

By: Matthew Roberts
Senior Consultant, Data Exploitation

6th September 2017

Home » MoD

Most people have heard of a Kindle or an e-reader: a device that uses an electronic paper display to allow users to read on a paper-like display in bright sunlight. What many people won’t have heard of is the other uses for this technology.

The display technology used in e-readers is usually an electrophoretic display (an ‘EPD’). EPDs work by suspending charged pigments in a fluid contained within a capsule. A voltage can be applied between electrodes on either side of the capsule in order to move the pigment. This configuration can vary, but typically a clear fluid is used with black and white pigments. The white pigments are positively charged and the black pigments are negatively charged. Varying the voltage moves the pigments to control how much of each pigment type is at the visible surface of the microcapsule. The pigments at the visible surface determine how much light is reflected and therefore how white that part of the display looks.

This is a very different approach to producing an image compared to the display technology used in TVs, laptops, and mobile phones which typically use liquid crystal displays (LCDs) or organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays. LCD and OLED technologies alter the amount of light that is emitted. An EPD, on the other hand, is a reflective technology.

Reflective display technologies don’t need to compete with sunlight in order to be visible outdoors. This is why it is much easier to read an e-reader than a smartphone when in direct sunlight. In addition to this, EPD technology allows text and images to be displayed in such a way that doesn’t require power to maintain the image (you only need power to move the pigments).

The combination of these two properties makes for a very compelling technology for low power displays that can be used both indoors and outdoors. The applications of this technology are more varied than some people might realise. For example, EPD technology has been used in electronic supermarket price labels, indoor signs, bus timetables, bracelets, and watches. There have even been attempts to incorporate EPD display technology into phone cases and shoes.

Plextek has experimented with using the same technology to create an adaptive visual camouflage system for vehicles. We essentially use thin and flexible EPD panels to cover a vehicle with displays that are low power and visible in daylight conditions. To use an emissive display to achieve this would require huge amounts of power (and produce a lot of heat)! It would also need careful control of the brightness to blend in, whereas, the reflective nature of EPDs naturally varies in brightness as lighting conditions change.

Most EPDs create a greyscale image. We have used a colour filter array to convert black and white into shades of green and yellow. It’s a bit like putting colour overhead projector acetate over a piece of paper. The colour gamut that is produced is surprisingly flexible, ranging from light green and cream to dark green and dark brown.

This allows us to display a wide variety of camouflage schemes that are similar to those found on military vehicles. We can even display pictures and text, such as messages relating to humanitarian aid. A scheme can be changed in seconds. The versatility that this provides is very different to the traditional method of repainting a vehicle in order to change the scheme. The new capability that it provides allows schemes to be chosen that work well in one environment rather than finding a compromise for the range of environments that might be encountered.

The possibilities don’t stop there. Colour EPD technology is currently being developed, where more pigment colours are used in each capsule instead of an overlay. This will enable EPDs to cover a much richer colour gamut enabling new applications such as tablet PCs with daylight readable low power screens and large colour billboards that can be updated remotely and consume significantly less power than emissive versions.

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Most people have heard of a Kindle or an e-reader: a device that uses an electronic paper display to allow users to read on a paper-like display in bright sunlight. What many people won’t have heard of is the other uses for this technology.

The display technology used in e-readers is usually an electrophoretic display (an ‘EPD’). EPDs work by suspending charged pigments in a fluid contained within a capsule. A voltage can be applied between electrodes on either side of the capsule in order to move the pigment. This configuration can vary, but typically a clear fluid is used with black and white pigments. The white pigments are positively charged and the black pigments are negatively charged. Varying the voltage moves the pigments to control how much of each pigment type is at the visible surface of the microcapsule. The pigments at the visible surface determine how much light is reflected and therefore how white that part of the display looks.

This is a very different approach to producing an image compared to the display technology used in TVs, laptops, and mobile phones which typically use liquid crystal displays (LCDs) or organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays. LCD and OLED technologies alter the amount of light that is emitted. An EPD, on the other hand, is a reflective technology.

Reflective display technologies don’t need to compete with sunlight in order to be visible outdoors. This is why it is much easier to read an e-reader than a smartphone when in direct sunlight. In addition to this, EPD technology allows text and images to be displayed in such a way that doesn’t require power to maintain the image (you only need power to move the pigments).

The combination of these two properties makes for a very compelling technology for low power displays that can be used both indoors and outdoors. The applications of this technology are more varied than some people might realise. For example, EPD technology has been used in electronic supermarket price labels, indoor signs, bus timetables, bracelets, and watches. There have even been attempts to incorporate EPD display technology into phone cases and shoes.

Plextek has experimented with using the same technology to create an adaptive visual camouflage system for vehicles. We essentially use thin and flexible EPD panels to cover a vehicle with displays that are low power and visible in daylight conditions. To use an emissive display to achieve this would require huge amounts of power (and produce a lot of heat)! It would also need careful control of the brightness to blend in, whereas, the reflective nature of EPDs naturally varies in brightness as lighting conditions change.

Most EPDs create a greyscale image. We have used a colour filter array to convert black and white into shades of green and yellow. It’s a bit like putting colour overhead projector acetate over a piece of paper. The colour gamut that is produced is surprisingly flexible, ranging from light green and cream to dark green and dark brown.

This allows us to display a wide variety of camouflage schemes that are similar to those found on military vehicles. We can even display pictures and text, such as messages relating to humanitarian aid. A scheme can be changed in seconds. The versatility that this provides is very different to the traditional method of repainting a vehicle in order to change the scheme. The new capability that it provides allows schemes to be chosen that work well in one environment rather than finding a compromise for the range of environments that might be encountered.

The possibilities don’t stop there. Colour EPD technology is currently being developed, where more pigment colours are used in each capsule instead of an overlay. This will enable EPDs to cover a much richer colour gamut enabling new applications such as tablet PCs with daylight readable low power screens and large colour billboards that can be updated remotely and consume significantly less power than emissive versions.

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Armor Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS)

AIMS – Body Armour Smart Sensor for the Tactical Environment

Bede O'Neill - Business Development Consultant, Defence

By: Bede O’Neill
Business Development Consultant, Defence

16th August 2017

Home » MoD

Throughout the ages, from earliest forms of protective shields, such as leather panels, chain mail to full armoured suits – body armour has always played a crucial role in protecting the lives of combatants. Modern day armed forces personnel wear configurations that can typically include ceramic body armour plates. Ceramic plates are highly effective at minimising the effects of projectiles presenting much greater stopping power than the soft armour variants typically found in lightweight ballistic vests. Whilst ceramic armour is hard and lightweight, its inherent design is to disperse the kinetic energy and, therefore, the penetration ability of the projectile by fracturing.

As a result, it is imperative that the ceramic body armour plate is regularly checked to verify the integrity of the ceramic structure and without specialist x-ray analysis it can be very difficult to spot this damage. The consequence of x-ray analysis as an integral element of maintenance support is a prolonged inspection cycle.

To address this issue, Plextek have developed a sensor system that removes the need for regular x-ray analysis. The Armour Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS) uses a small low power inertial sensor to detect impact events sustained by the plate. The wearer of the armour can then use a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) to interrogate the AIMS sensor to check for plate damage following an impact event.

With an estimated five year operating life, the AIMS sensor is truly a ‘fit and forget’ device that can be retrofitted to existing ceramic body armour stocks. Whilst each plate requires only one AIMS monitoring sensor, a single smartphone can be used to check the condition of an entire deployed fleet of plates.

What AIMS delivers to the user is a first line confidence test to verify that their ballistic protection is fit for use. Previously only confirmed by x-ray analysis, AIMS provides an immediate status update ensuring that personnel have the protection that they deserve.

The introduction of AIMS to an existing fleet significantly drives down the equipment whole life costs by removing the logistic and unit costs incurred when dispatching body armour back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for specialist x-ray analysis. As an active monitoring sensor, AIMS continues to provide an updated status of the body armour even if it has been in storage for a significant period since the last x-ray.

A truly smart sensor for the tactical environment, AIMS can be reconfigured to record multiple impact events. This information, presented on the smart phone app, can be used by medical professionals to help understand the trauma that the user has experienced. This valuable data could be used to help triage patients and diagnose the possibility and likely severity of internal injuries.

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Throughout the ages, from earliest forms of protective shields, such as leather panels, chain mail to full armoured suits – body armour has always played a crucial role in protecting the lives of combatants. Modern day armed forces personnel wear configurations that can typically include ceramic body armour plates. Ceramic plates are highly effective at minimising the effects of projectiles presenting much greater stopping power than the soft armour variants typically found in lightweight ballistic vests. Whilst ceramic armour is hard and lightweight, its inherent design is to disperse the kinetic energy and, therefore, the penetration ability of the projectile by fracturing.

As a result, it is imperative that the ceramic body armour plate is regularly checked to verify the integrity of the ceramic structure and without specialist x-ray analysis it can be very difficult to spot this damage. The consequence of x-ray analysis as an integral element of maintenance support is a prolonged inspection cycle.

To address this issue, Plextek have developed a sensor system that removes the need for regular x-ray analysis. The Armour Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS) uses a small low power inertial sensor to detect impact events sustained by the plate. The wearer of the armour can then use a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) to interrogate the AIMS sensor to check for plate damage following an impact event.

With an estimated five year operating life, the AIMS sensor is truly a ‘fit and forget’ device that can be retrofitted to existing ceramic body armour stocks. Whilst each plate requires only one AIMS monitoring sensor, a single smartphone can be used to check the condition of an entire deployed fleet of plates.

What AIMS delivers to the user is a first line confidence test to verify that their ballistic protection is fit for use. Previously only confirmed by x-ray analysis, AIMS provides an immediate status update ensuring that personnel have the protection that they deserve.

The introduction of AIMS to an existing fleet significantly drives down the equipment whole life costs by removing the logistic and unit costs incurred when dispatching body armour back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for specialist x-ray analysis. As an active monitoring sensor, AIMS continues to provide an updated status of the body armour even if it has been in storage for a significant period since the last x-ray.

A truly smart sensor for the tactical environment, AIMS can be reconfigured to record multiple impact events. This information, presented on the smart phone app, can be used by medical professionals to help understand the trauma that the user has experienced. This valuable data could be used to help triage patients and diagnose the possibility and likely severity of internal injuries.

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Cambridge, UK – 1st February 2017 – Design and innovation consultancy, Plextek, in a competitive tender against a mix of large defence contractors and research organisations, has been appointed by the UK Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to lead the £2m, four-year Adaptive Communications Transmission Interface (ACTI) research programme.

Under the ACTI programme, Plextek will lead a team of specialists and experts from academia, to investigate cross-layer processing as a way of enabling Mobile Ad-Hoc Network (MANET) radio systems to utilise directional antenna techniques. An important goal of the programme is to create disruptive technologies that will improve the quality, reliability, data rates and range of military communications systems.

A Dstl spokesperson: “The ACTI research is an important programme for the Ministry of Defence. Military ad-hoc communication systems are currently limited by the range of an individual radio link and self-interference as messages are repeated through the network.”

“The ACTI research programme will explore the theory that current systems can benefit from the use of directional antennas. Over the next four years, Plextek, along with its partners, will be developing innovative MANET protocol stack and antenna technology that aims to demonstrate the benefits envisaged.”

The techniques that have been applied to achieve ad-hoc (infrastructure-less) connections and dynamic routing have been studied for many years under the general banner of MANET. However, the MANET ‘multi-hop’ approach has so far not delivered the anticipated step change in wireless system performance. Through the use of novel directional antennas, the ACTI programme will address the complex underlying causes of this, including link range and interference within the network by message forwarding. Cross-layer processing techniques will be developed to tackle the difficulties in allocating radio resource at the MAC layer, the complexity of dynamic routing in a mobile scenario and the needs of the IP layers (which assume a level of link stability that may not always exist).

Peter Doig, Business Manager, Defence at Plextek: “With this research programme we’ll be doing some pioneering work on MANET architectures that include directional, steerable antennas which have the potential to tackle some of the underlying matters that have hampered multi-hop MANET networks, with a view to enabling the next generation of military ad-hoc radios to provide an operational advantage to our military forces.”

“In teaming with our academic partners, we have the complete range of expertise to deliver the programme, including Plextek’s proven pedigree in applied research and innovation. Based on our industry-leading expertise in electronics design, antennas and propagation, we will be exploring opportunities to exploit this research programme to deliver effective technologies that improve military communications systems in the future.”

Notes to editors

Based near Cambridge, UK, Plextek designs new products, systems, and services for its clients in a diverse range of industries including defence & security, medical & healthcare, and wireless communications.

Central to its culture is the company’s ability to innovate, taking an idea from concept to market. For more than 25 years the team of consultants, engineers and project managers has turned our clients’ business opportunities into commercial success, designing, manufacturing and supplying leading-edge products. Supported by our network of suppliers, commercial partners and research organisations, Plextek is the trusted partner of choice for more than 300 commercial clients, government agencies, and ambitious start-up companies.

For more information call us on 01799 533200 or email: press@plextek.com

Plextek has created a detection system to immediately identify any damage to a soldier’s armour while still on the battlefield. The system can even identify hairline fractures, which often go undetected but can seriously compromise reliability. Claire Apthorp caught up with the programme to find out how the technology can immediately inform a soldier whether their armour has experienced hidden damage, without the need for bulk routine X-rays.

Plextek features on Army Technology website.

To read the full article click here.

Cambridge tech design innovator, Plextek has helped devise a new training simulator for pilots and tank drivers that could save the MoD millions of pounds.

Plextek features on Business Weekly website.

To read the full article click here.