Bill Liu thinks he can do something Samsung, LG, and Lenovo can’t: manufacture affordable, flexible electronics that can be bent, folded, or rolled up into a tube.
Other researchers and companies have had similar ideas, but Liu moved fast to commercialize his vision. In 2012, he founded a startup called Royole, and in 2014 the company—under his leadership as CEO—unveiled the world’s thinnest flexible display. Compared with rival technologies that can be curved into a fixed shape but aren’t completely pliable, Royole’s displays are as thin as an onion skin and can be rolled tightly around a pen. They can also be fabricated using simpler manufacturing processes, at lower temperatures, which allows Royole to make them at lower cost than competing versions. The company operates its own factory in Shenzhen, China, and is finishing construction on a 1.1-million-square-foot campus nearby. Once complete, the facility will produce 50 million flexible panels a year, says Royole.
Liu dreams of creating an all-in-one computing device that would combine the benefits of a watch, smartphone, tablet, and TV. “I think our flexible displays and sensors will eventually make that possible,” he says. For now, users will have to settle for a $799 headset that they can don like goggles to watch movies and video games in 3-D.