The Mirasol display is considered as one of the most revolutionary inventions in the modern era, as it allowed screens to have color without taking too much power from the devices that utilize them. While this particular type of display was popular in the early 2010s, there are only a few people who actually know the inspiration behind its color-shifting technology. Qualcomm, the company responsible for the creation of the Mirasol display, stated that they came up with the technology while observing how the wings of certain butterflies would often change color depending on how the light hits them. Now, there are more complicated things that should be noted when it comes to how Qualcomm created this biomimetic technology, and for more information regarding its conceptualization and invention, let us dive into the amazing origins of the Mirasol display.
Origins of Mirasol
Before it was officially given the name Mirasol, the display was first called “interferometric modulator display” by its inventor, Mark W. Miles, a researcher specializing in MEMS (micro-electromechanical system) and serves as the founder of Etalon, Inc., and co-founder of Iridigm Display Corporation. When Qualcomm successfully acquired Iridigm Display in 2004, they expressed interest in continuing the research for the interferometric modulator display.
According to Qualcomm, the inspiration for the unique display is the morphorhetenor butterfly, a beautiful insect that normally has shiny blue wings. However, while we normally see the wings of the butterfly as blue in color, the layers of microscopic crystals in its surface allows the insect to reflect light in different angles, thus forming the iridescent and often changing colors on the wings. It is known that color is produced whenever light shines on an object, and that object would reflect the color wavelength that it is capable of reflecting. For example, the colors that we see right now on our bed, our desks, and even our food, are caused by these items reflecting light at different wavelengths. As for the butterfly’s wings, the crystals found on that specific body part of the butterfly allows it to reflect different wavelengths, and in turn, reflect different colors that we see using our eyes.
Qualcomm aimed to replicate the butterfly wing’s microscopic crystals into a screen in order to transform a black-and-white display to a full-color display. This biomimetic technology was achieved by using tiny and flexible membranes that are electrically charged and are overlaid on a mirrored surface. The combination of the mirrored surface and the flexible membranes replicates how butterfly wings reflect light, thus creating color. The membranes will be responsible on what color wavelength should be reflected by the screen, while the mirror surface will be the one that performs the reflecting towards the light.
In addition to giving screen the ability to display color, the Mirasol display also allows screens to still be bright even if there is no illumination or backlighting, which means that the screen is still visible even in the dark. Because it doesn’t need illumination, the Mirasol display is considered an energy-efficient technology for devices since the screen one of the most energy-draining parts of a device before the creation of the Mirasol.
One of the first devices that utilized the Mirasol display was the Qualcomm e-reader prototype that was produced and developed by Foxlink, and this device garnered massive media attention because of the advancements that it brought in the e-reading industry. Before the creation of the Mirasol display, e-readers only have black-and-white screens, although the device would usually only be used for reading books, which are typically displayed in black texts. With the Mirasol display, the e-readers would finally be able to display colorful pictures often found in children’s books, and it is also able to let people read digital newspapers. In addition, the Mirasol e-reader became a multimedia device because of its ability to display games and videos.
Despite the impact that the Mirasol display brought in the world of technology in the late 2000s, Qualcomm found itself struggling to sell the Mirasol to other manufacturers, mainly due to the fact that other companies also began developing and selling their own full-color screens. Because of the failure of the Mirasol to become the next big thing in the 2010s, Qualcomm decided to discontinue the technology in 2013 after losing $300 million in investments. Qualcomm tried to find businesses that may want to license the Mirasol brand and technology, but nobody approached Qualcomm. Today, Qualcomm abandoned their dream of tapping into the screen and display market and focused on creating processors for smartphones. The company is currently one of the biggest manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and semiconductors in the world, thanks to their partnership with some of the most iconic smartphone brands like Samsung, Sony, Asus, and Xiaomi, who all use their previous and latest processor chips.