The battery life of wearables, IoT devices, and smartphones remains one of the tech industry’s biggest challenges and often a significant barrier to mainstream adoption. (I, for one, can’t think of anything more tedious than having to charge a watch every night). There are various ways to tackle this problem, from better power management software and more efficient chips, to incremental advances in battery life. But actually, considering that the biggest drain on battery life is usually a power hungry screen, why not tackle the problem at source?
Enter Bodle Technologies, a startup spun out of Oxford University, that is developing a new type of ‘reflective’ display technology that promises to use a lot less power. In fact, in some states the screen tech may require almost no power at all.
To help scale the nascent company and get to the prototype stage, Bodle has raised £6 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Parkwalk Advisors, with participation from Woodford Patient Capital Trust, and returning backers Oxford Sciences Innovation and the Oxford Technology and Innovations EIS Fund (OTIF).
The company has previously received investment from the University of Oxford Innovation Fund, which is also managed by Parkwalk Advisors and was set up with the explicit aim to help commercialise viable IP developed by students and faculty at Oxford.
To that end, Bodle says its reflective display technology could have applications that include wearables, Internet-of-Things (IoT) displays and eReaders. In addition, should its development continue on the current trajectory, the technology could turn static printed materials, such as posters and packaging, into low-cost dynamic displays.
Here’s how the startup explains the “solid-state reflective display” (SRD) tech, which was invented by Professor Harish Bhaskaran and postdoctoral researcher Dr Peiman Hosseini at Oxford University’s Department of Materials:
Capable of use in both flexible and on-glass displays, the technology’s pixels simply reflect light, drastically reducing the power required to project an image and eliminating power requirements for a static image altogether. Colour in the image comes from a structural interference effect, whilst switching the refractive index of an ultrathin layer of phase change material generates the dynamic colour display. The materials are capable of a high enough refresh rate to deliver video. The technology has the additional benefits of being paper-thin, cost- effective, with strong performance in outdoor conditions and easier on the eyes compared to LCD and OLED-style screens.
The key aspect of a solid-state reflective display is that it isn’t back-lit. Instead, it’s a solid state screen that uses other sources of light (be it sun, electric room lighting, etc) to illuminate the screen. As it stands, the Bodle team are confident of a high enough resolution to display a HD video, while the main advantage is power usage: if you don’t need to backlight the screen, your battery lasts longer, meanwhile the drain from mains is minimal.
The bigger sell — and Bodle is still some way off to a commercial product — is that by drastically reducing the cost and power required, you can have screens of all shapes and sizes just about anywhere.
So, for example, it might be possible to put an SRD film over a mirror or a window to create a smart window/mirror. Applications for real-world display advertising are even more obvious. Or perhaps SRD could be used to add a second screen to a smartphone or its case that lets you use certain functions of your phone, such as reading (an idea that has been tried before with eInk technology).