The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge 2 with a curved display (image source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Smartphones and tablets are dominating the tech discussion of late: we’re so busy marvelling at all the ways our phones will be shatterproof or how neatly our tablets will fold up into our pockets that it’s easy to overlook the additional ground-breaking uses of flexible technology outside of the consumer electronics industry. The automobile, medical and fashion industries are all set to benefit from the flexible revolution, and here’s how.

Drivers: flexible displays in the auto industry

Flexible displays could render blind spots a thing of the past. FlexEnable, a technology provider developing flexible organic electronics, partnered with Flex, a company specialising in ‘sketch-to-scale’ solutions, to showcase the first conformed LCD in an integrated auto application. Together, they designed a flexible display that incorporates into the A-pillar working with a camera attached to the wing pillar. This breakthrough virtually eliminates blind spots by increasing the driver’s visibility of the side and rear of the car. This will increase road safety, and proves just how useful these flexible displays are in a wide range of applications.

Doctors: flexible technology in the medical field

The buzz around flexible technology in the medical field has to do with the future of X-ray technology. According to a recent article on FlexEnable’s blog, adopting plastic-based X-ray image sensors will make X-ray detectors lighter, conformable and more cost effective. They also say: ‘A plastic based X-ray sensor can potentially also be conformed to objects, thereby allowing a new range of applications that weren’t imaginable using a rigid X-ray detector.’

But flexible electronics are poised to change more than X-rays: they could help you in preventing chronic pain. According to an article in the MIT Technology Review, a tiny, flexible, wirelessly-activated LED device ‘could be implanted in mice and used to manipulate neural circuits known to be involved in creating the perception of pain by using an emerging technology called optogenetics. The technique entails adjusting the DNA of neurons so they can be made to fire, or can be blocked from firing, by shining light on them. The researchers also showed that the implants could be left in for long periods of time without significantly damaging the tissue or impairing motor function.’ Imagine controlling your pain with the flick of a switch: chronic pain could become little more than a temporary nuisance.

Designers: flexible innovations in fashion 

Flexible displays are slowly seeping into the fashion industry, as big names like Ralph Lauren and Opening Ceremony are bringing designer labels to the wearable market. New York-based ShiftWear is poised to reinvent the trainer game: they are currently working on a prototype of a shoe with flexible e-paper displays built into the sides, allowing you to change the graphic and illustration featured on them. Their Indiegogo campaign raised almost $100,000; hopefully in the next few years we can rock these customisable kicks (read more about the project here).

Not just fitness bands and smartphones

From cars to X-ray detectors to shoes, flexible displays are able to revolutionise existing technologies across many different industries.