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The Big Bend

Do you wish you had a giant, flexible television that could fit into any corner of your backyard, thus creating your own alfresco IMAX? Richard Cope, a former head of R&D for the Marine Corps, did. So he started NanoLumens, a company that makes light-as-air TVs that flex, twist and even wrap around columns. Here’s how it’s done.


BIT BY BIT The surface of a NanoLumens screen is composed of tiny light diodes called nixels on a bendable surface. Each nixel contains a red, green and blue phosphor.

GREEN SCREEN NanoLumens TVs run on about the same amount of energy as five lightbulbs, or a coffee maker.



A BRIGHT IDEA Unlike a projector, which dims in the ambient light, NanoLumens screens stay bright even in sunlight.

Companies that experimented with flexible TVs always ran into a distortion problem: As the screen bent, the images stretched or elongated. To solve this, NanoLumens placed all the diodes (they call them nixels) on a “single-bend” plane. So no matter how the screen flexes—horizontally, vertically, corner to corner—the distance between the diodes doesn’t change. Presto! The image stays clear.

Cope predicts that the screens will be used as digital banners in public spaces, so they have to be able to draw power from just about any outlet, no matter how dodgy the neighborhood. The superefficient nixels—which require much less energy than plasma or LCD TVs—make this possible. “The screens can plug into a normal outlet and draw even less power than a coffeemaker,” says Cope.

An LCD TV the size of a NanoLumens screen would weigh around 500 pounds, which doesn’t work well in spaces with no room for permanent mounts. To get the weight down to under 100 pounds, NanoLumens simply nixed the glass. “The front glass of a traditional TV is 80 percent of the weight,” says Paul Schaefer, director of operations. “We just took it out.”

The bendable TV is “basically a large computer monitor,” says Schaefer. As a result, it’s not limited to one orientation. NanoLumens programmers can change the settings to display content either vertically or horizontally, depending on the planned layout. The screen also emits light rather than reflecting it like a projection screen, so it stays bright even in sunlight.

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