Science & Technology

Flexible microprocessors have the potential to enable “all the Internet”

Christopher Tagliata: Microchips are everywhere-of course, they are on our computers and smartphones. But TVs, thermostats, refrigerators, washing machines, cars too. The ever-growing constellation of devices with computer brains and internet connections is known as the “Internet of Things.”

But many other things, like milk cartons, don’t have microchips or smart sensors-not to mention that they couldn’t.

John Bigs: “For example, imagine a smart label for food. This can change the expiration date depending on how you handle it.”

Intagliata: John Bigs A prominent engineer at the semiconductor company Arm. He and his team have now developed a proof-of-concept flexible chip that can be used in applications such as equipping a milk jug with a computer smart … and they say the chip is 12 times more complex than previous attempts. They explain it in a recent issue of the journal Nature. [John Biggs et al, A natively flexible 32-bit Arm microprocessor]

They claim that microprocessors can be built cheaply and consist of thin film transistors on a flexible, high-performance plastic substrate rather than rigid silicon.

Biggs: “It’s just 40,000 transistors and is implemented in about 60mm2. For example, it’s 14,000 times faster than the original iPhone processor in 2007. So it’s a very powerful microprocessor. It’s not, but it’s intended for applications that don’t really need that level of performance. “

Intagliata: His co-author Catherine Ramsdale Senior Vice President of Technology at PragmatI Semiconductor. She presented a vision of how such flexible chips would be used.

Ramsdale: “We’re talking about putting electronics in what we buy weekly at Walmart and Tescos. This helps supply chain management… waste management. It provides real-time expiration information. Health. Provides care monitoring. The level of computing that is not currently available because it is not economical. “

Biggs: “Yes, we will extend the” Internet of Things “to” the Internet of All. ” ”

Intagliata: Despite their enthusiasm, the two admitted that the project was far from commercialization.

For one, the microprocessor is built on a flexible plastic substrate, but has been tested on a flat, unbent surface. Manos Tenzelis He was a professor of flexible electronics at Georgia Institute of Technology and was not involved in this work.

Manos Tenzelis: “Therefore, whenever we mention a flexible processor, or a flexible device or module, one of the first consequences we have to show is that bending it does not have a significant impact on performance.”

Intagliata: Bigs and Ramsdale said it can be difficult to perform tests while the chip is bending and bending-and they will investigate it in future work.

Anchelle SagResponsible for the semiconductor industry at Moor Insights & Strategy pointed out another issue. He says the chips are currently too big, consume too much power, and are not feasible in terms of cost.

Sag: “I think it makes sense to use it in a milk jug, but I think we need to consider the cost, and unless we can make these at a very low cost, it’s not feasible.”

Intagliata: Still, they all had to overcome many similar challenges to reach today’s place, as silicon chips first reached this level of complexity in the 70’s and 80’s long ago. I pointed out that it didn’t happen.

And the semiconductor company John Bigs? He participates in it for a long game.

Biggs: “What I see is that flexible electronics are a type of silicon after about 30-40 years, so if you look at something like the rapid growth seen in silicon over the last 30-40 years, it’s very Exciting developments are likely to take place in the field of flexible electronics over the next 10 or 2 years. “

Intagliata: As “all the internet” comes … it may take some time to get here.

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]



Flexible microprocessors have the potential to enable “all the Internet”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/flexible-microprocessor-could-enable-an-internet-of-everything/ Flexible microprocessors have the potential to enable “all the Internet”

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