HSINCHU, Taiwan — On this island, where manufacturing is king, INT Tech founder David Chu has embarked on what he calls a “lonely journey."

Rather than entering into production, his company is developing unique next-generation display technology that it is licensing to partners in a growing ecosystem of chip designers and system manufacturers as well as materials and equipment makers.

At the center of that strategy is INT Tech’s ultra-high pixel-density (UHPD) AMOLED display platform — which delivers 2,228 pixels per inch (PPI) — the highest pixel density on glass. The company will introduce the technology that provides a more than 400% improvement from smartphone displays and enables a new range of VR/AR applications at CES 2019 in Las Vegas next week.

“5G will drive the development of next-generation displays,” Chu said to EE Times in an interview at the company headquarters in Hsinchu. “If you look for patents on 22,000 to 28,000 PPI for color AMOLED on glass you will find one company. Ours.”

INT Tech foresees display applications for robotic surgical devices, military head-mounted displays (HMDs) and VR/AR headsets. INT Tech is also introducing a second platform, its smart pixel and IC (SPIC). As a board-level solution that supports the integration of multiple sensors on the same backplane as the display, SPIC allows designers to make an entire display into a live sensing area.

INT Tech David Chu (right), founder of INT Tech, and his team.

INT is focused on high-end medical and military applications. While current display systems for medical use can only be used for non-critical operations, the company expects the higher data capacity of 5G to allow its display technology to free up doctors by providing depth and clear detail during a wide range of surgical operations.

With military applications, soldiers on a battlefield will be able to use next-generation displays with AR to access in-depth information. The company expects new displays combining AR and AI to make a microscope into a diagnostics tool.

No More Screen Door

Chu says UHPD is especially well-suited to VR and AR because it eliminates the "screen-door" effect that has plagued users. At the same time, it provides an exceptionally immersive user experience, he says.

The founder of INT, who has held top-management-level positions in a number of major display manufacturing companies, has formed a new business model that gives partners access to the company’s core knowledge and technologies.

INT has a growing IP portfolio that ranks the company among Taiwan’s top 100 patent applicants in 2017.

“We now have 161 patent applications and 50-some have already been granted,” Chu says.

Last year, INT partnered with Taiwan’s UltraChip to enter the AMOLED driver IC market by forming a joint venture called UltraDisplay. That joint venture is now selling driver ICs based on INT technology to major AMOLED manufacturers.

INT is also working with several overseas companies on joint development programs.

The company has raised initial funding to build a microfab, where it will develop technologies related to materials and manufacturing. INT aims to spin off that intellectual property through licensing to partners.

“We have a new partner coming in the material space,” Chu says. “Also one in equipment.”

The company plans to enter into licensing agreements with partners in a variety of ways, including acquisition of equity stakes, up-front cash, milestone payments or royalties. One thing INT will never do is enter into commercial production itself, Chu says.

“We don’t want to carry a heavy asset burden,” he says.

UHPD Technology

INT’s UHPD platform is a proprietary glass-based RGB AMOLED display that delivers a leap forward in pixel density (> 2200 PPI) — and achieves 4K resolution.

“We build everything on glass,” Chu says. “It’s the most inexpensive way but it’s also the most challenging technically.”

The technology can be used to make micro OLEDs, which were first developed by Sony on silicon.

The problem with the Sony technology is scaling up to larger sizes because silicon wafers are comparatively expensive, according to Chu. By using large glass displays, field of view is improved significantly.

In addition, silicon doesn’t provide the transparency or flexibility of glass, he says.

Today, flexible displays are based on glass substrates, he adds. INT is the first to do the AMOLED technology on glass, according to Chu.

Smart Pixel IC (SPIC) Technology

INT’s proprietary SPIC technology enables the integration of multiple sensors, including fingerprint, eye tracking, ambient light, proximity and other sensors, on the same backplane as the display. Based on a TFT process and developed on glass or flexible substrate, SPIC is targeted at IoT and biosensor applications.

RFID has been one of the main obstacles for the wide adoption of IoT, according to Chu.

“RFID is still done on silicon, but if we can do it on glass the cost will come down,” Chu says. “If you compare the bill of materials on glass versus silicon wafer you’re probably talking about just a tenth of the cost.”

SPIC provides sensing areas as large as the whole display because sensors are developed on glass or flexible substrate and are integrated with the backplane, according to the company. This contrasts with silicon-based displays, which require a separate layer for sensors, increasing thickness while limiting potential active sensing areas.

Compared to silicon-based sensors, glass- or flexible substrate-based sensors can be developed in flat-panel fabs and manufactured at much lower cost, according to INT.

At a time when there is more talk about overcapacity in the AMOLED business, INT’s Chu is optimistic.

“People see opportunities for transformation when a crisis comes,” he says.

Chu expects his company to lead the way toward new growth in the business through the innovations he is offering.

“Our head count is 46 people,” Chu says. “I used to lead companies with tens of thousands of employees. I lost interest in scale. I like to think these 46 people can deliver the results of hundreds of people.”

Chu handpicks his people for their capability with managing knowledge.

“Some come from the display industry, some from the semiconductor industry, and some are from equipment and tool makers.”

He says he doesn’t really care that much about their past experience.

“Our core competence is thin films,” Chu says. “We know how to manipulate thin films.”