Sharp’s Free Form LCDs break out of the box to fit in car dashboards, smartwatches, and more

sharps new lcd shaped for cars wearables and more sharp free form display
While Sharp has had a tough time keeping up with the likes of Korean giants Samsung and LG when it comes to its TV division, the company has developed a prototype for what it’s calling “a revolutionary advance over the conventional display shape,” which just might give it an edge in a whole new untapped market. Sharp’s Free-Form Display is a unique LCD screen that can be shaped specifically into new designs and matched to a variety of applications — including, potentially, the dashboard of your next vehicle.

Although Sharp first revealed the fledgling technology in a press release back in June, the company is debuting several prototype displays at CEATEC 2014 in Japan this week, according to PCWorld. The prototypes are being featured in Sharp’s “Car Life World” display, one of the company’s four exhibitions at the convention.

The Free-Form Display can be shaped to meet a wide range of user needs, thanks to the incorporation of Sharp’s IGZO technology and various other proprietary circuit design methods. As Sharp explains, conventional LCD displays are rectangular because the drive circuit — or “gate driver” — which send current to the pixels are traditionally set around the perimeter of the screen’s display. That’s why traditional LCD screens, like the one in your flat panel TV for instance, are designed with a bezel along the edge that extends beyond the image of the display itself.

With Sharp’s new Free Form Display, however, the gate driver’s function is dispersed throughout the pixels on the display. The displays still require at least one straight edge, but the rest of the screen can be snipped and shaped to fit virtually whatever layout design is thrown its way. And because the driver chips are dispersed throughout the display’s surface, Sharp is able to shrink the bezel size along the edge, pushing the image to fill the entire surface area.

The Free-Form Display’s flexibility makes it possible to fit into odd spaces like a car’s dashboard, and integrate every necessary monitor or gauge, from speedometer to odometer, into a single instrument panel. The design gives the screen a more embedded, organic feel by almost eliminating the space between the display and the surrounding environment. It also potentially allows for an unprecedented level of creativity in your dash, and possibly (dare we say it?), even user customization.

The tech is reportedly ready for mass production, but Sharp is waiting for orders from car makers. Of course, as PCWorld notes, it takes time for concepts to become reality, so don’t expect your 2015 Toyota Camry to sport the fancy new LCD display in the dash.

While Sharp has already singled out in-vehicle applications as a primary extension of the technology, the company has indicated a few other potential uses for the new tech as well, including wearable devices with elliptical displays, digital signage, and “other large monitors that draw the viewer into the onscreen world.”

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