These problems solved, the technology is now ready to move out of the lab. “We’re through the laboratory demonstration phase,” Jaskie says. “Manufacturing development–building a factory and having all the manufacturing equipment up and running–is the next big step.”
Steve Jurichich, director of display technology at DisplaySearch, a consultancy in Austin, TX, cautions that success depends in part on how much existing manufacturing technology can be used: “LCDs are the juggernaut right now.” If nanotube TV makers had to start from scratch with new kinds of equipment, he says, it would be impossible to compete.
But one potential advantage of carbon nanotube displays is that they can use the same phosphor screens already being mass-produced for CRTs today. And Jaskie says the process of growing the nanotubes can use equipment very similar to that used to deposit silicon for LCDs today.
Motorola’s technology will have plenty of competition. Not only are LCDs and plasma displays improving rapidly, but Motorola will have to compete with other manufacturers developing new versions of field emission displays. Samsung, for one, has also worked on carbon-nanotube-based displays (see “Nanotech on Display”). And Canon and Toshiba are planning to start shipping their own field emission displays by the end of 2007; their technology uses nano-sized gaps in an electron-emitting plate rather than carbon nanotubes. Additional competition could come from other up-and-coming technologies using organic light-emitting devices or even nanocrystals (see “Nanocrystal Displays”).
“These are all good things, and given the right time frame, some of them will make it,” Jurichich says. “But don’t expect them for Christmas.”