More than 10 years ago, U.S. Army researchers saw potential in flexible displays. With nothing in the marketplace, the Army decided to change that by partnering with industry and academia to create the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University. The Army's goal was to get this technology into the hands of soldiers. The Army established a research center with industry and universities in 2004. Today, researchers have scored significant breakthroughs and racked up more than 50 patents. The original goal of the program may soon be met.

Researchers say the most important result was figuring out how to put conventional electronics onto plastic using existing electronics manufacturing equipment. "The process allows us to glue plastic onto a carrier in a standard manufacturing fabrication facility and then de-bond it -- kind of like a Post-it note. Literally, the plastic peels off from the carrier," said Eric Forsythe, Ph.D., Army Research Laboratory, team leader and flexible electronics deputy project manager.

"The Soldier is going to have a display that is essentially embedded on his or her uniform that will provide information when it is needed," said David Morton, Ph.D., ARL program manager for flexible displays. "The display that's on the soldier will not break," he said. "It will use very low power, and it's not going to wear out."

"We're going to be able to apply electronics everywhere," Morton said. "Think of plastic patches on the outside of tanks that are sensors. The soldier may have sensors on his or her back built onto the uniform for friend or foe identification. There will be sensors built into the helmet, maybe acoustic, could be optical. The communications antenna may be built into the clothing. If you can put electronics on lightweight, flexible plastic or build it into the fabric, essentially you can put it everywhere."