Moth Eye Effect: New screen coating makes reading in sunlight a lot easier

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Rare structures on moth eyes that help the insects see at night have inspired a new anti-reflection film for electronic devices. The new technology targets helping users see their screens even in bright daylight.

The film significantly reduces glare as well as the need to duck into the shade to read what’s on the screen.

“For most commercial smartphones, the moth-eye film can improve the readability of the screen by ten times under a clear sky. Under direct sunlight, it can improve the readability of the screen by five times,” said Professor Shin-Tson Wu, a physicist in the College of Optics and Photonics at the University Of Central Florida (UCF).

The film inspired by nature is anticipated to be cheap to manufacture and has the added benefits of being scratch-resistant and self-cleaning. Users could finally free their phones of the dust, fingerprints and grime that tend to collect on regular touch screens.

Wu’s team, including Guanjan Tan, the study’s lead author, and Jiun-Haw Lee’s team from National Taiwan University (NTU), were inspired to develop the anti-reflective film after hearing about the so-called moth-eye effect. This term refers to the unique pattern of anti-reflective nanostructures on the outer surface of a moth’s corneas.

The nanostructures permits light to pass into the eyes, but don’t allow it to reflect out. This helps moths see in the dark but also prevents their eyes from reflecting light that might give the insects away to predators. Wu and Tan thought the technique could serve as a low-cost solution to improve the readability of electronic displays.

Many smartphones and laptops have been designed to solve the problem of glare using a sensor that detects the quality of light and can enhance the brightness or even dim the screen according to the environment. But increasing the display brightness typically drains a device’s battery.

With this new coating, no additional power is required.

The moth-eye-like nanostructure film can be fabricated and sold as an accessory for our devices, just like screen-protection films or it can also be integrated into the whole device-manufacturing process.”

To make the film, the researchers first created a mold using tiny “nanospheres” that they applied to a glass surface and that self-assembled into a tightly packed layer. The researchers then used the mold like a template to press the pattern into the film.

Scaling up the assembly to industrial levels would be simple to do. The mold would be applied to a wheel and will use it for roll-to-roll manufacturing, like an old-school printing press.

The next step for the researchers, they said, is to improve the film’s durability, finding the right balance between flexibility and hardness.

Wu said his team of researchers is very excited about the results they achieved. The technology can be applied to smartphones, tablets and TVs that are already on the market, Wu said. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Because the coating is so thin and flexible, it could be used in the future on flexible or even foldable displays. Sounds pretty exciting.

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