The Next Big Thing

Hong Kong researchers' scratch proof nano-material smartphone screens 'cheaper than sapphire'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 May, 2015, 3:39pm

University researchers in Hong Kong have developed an ultra-hard scratch resistant film for mobile phone and tablet screens using nano-materials.

The ArmoGlass material, invented by researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University, consists of a layer of nano-materials and is stronger and cheaper to produce than sapphire glass, currently used in products such as the Apple Watch.

“Its hardness is proved to be comparable to the hardness of single crystal sapphire, which although hard is fragile. Hence, our team developed this nano-materials sapphire that provides an ultra-hard and strong surface,” said professor Cheah Kok-wai, chair of the university’s Department of Physics.

The material can be deposited onto glass or quartz for use on touch screen devices and is resistant to scratches.

The manufacturing cost of the submicron-thin film is half the price of sapphire covered glass, the researchers said. Sapphire glass is estimated to cost US$30 for a phone display screen.

Gadget lovers expected Apple to use sapphire glass for its iPhone 6, but the company opted against the move, sticking instead to Gorilla Glass, produced by United States company Corning, which has been used for iPhone screens since 2007.

Cheah said ArmoGlass is manufactured using standard industrial processes meaning production can be scaled quickly.

Hong Kong Baptist University researchers will begin to test production of ArmoGlass with funding from the Technology Start-up Scheme for Universities, which has also helped the scientists form a company.

Established by the government’s Innovation and Technology Commission, the scheme provides HK$24 million a year to encourage researchers to commercialise their inventions and start technology firms.

A provisional patent for the technology was filed in 2014 in the US, followed by an application for a full patent in March.