Dec 22, 2017 | By David

The Internet of Things is, alongside 3D printing, one of the key emerging technologies that should be disrupting the way industry works and the ways that people engage with it over the upcoming years. A recent breakthrough by the Air Force Research Laboratory in collaboration with American Semiconductor saw these two technologies combined in a pioneering way, to create an Internet of Things network control system on a microchip, which was made of silicone on polymer. This smart wearable device is one of the most complex flexible integrated circuits ever produced.

“Typical silicon-based, integrated circuits are brittle, rigid components that are packaged in a way that protects them. When we look at putting these type of devices into a flexible form factor, rigidness works against us,” said Dr. Dan Berrigan, a research scientist at the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. “Working with American Semiconductor, we took silicon integrated circuit chips and thinned them until they became flexible but were still able to maintain circuit functionality. This now allows us to place the microcontrollers—essentially minicomputers—in places we couldn’t before.”

The new flexibility of the microcontroller will allow it to be integrated into soft robotics and other wearable sensor technologies, which are in turn controlled through the Internet of Things. This could allow real-time monitoring of things like body hydration, temperature and fatigue, opening up new possibilities for people suffering from illnesses, the elderly, or wounded soldiers. The complexity of the device is unprecedented, with over 7,000 times the memory of other similar commercially available wearable chips. Along with the network capacity, this means that it can control a monitoring system and its analytic processes as well as collecting data for future evaluation.

“It’s capable of turning a system on and off, and it can also collect data from a sensor and retain it in memory,” said Berrigan. “We can wrap this type of chip around a fuel bladder sensor to detect leaks, use it to monitor munitions inventory and even augment cold-chain monitoring through temperature sensing. Enhancing logistics is just one of many ways this effort can help meet Air Force needs.”

The development of the device was supported in part by the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office, which is intended to support emerging technologies that meet needs and demands specific to the various defense fields. The achievement of the researchers behind it was recently recongnized by IDTechEx, one of the world’s largest tradeshows for innovative technology. The 3D printed network-on-a-chip system won the 2017 “Best New Material or Component Development Award” in the Wearable Technology Category.

The U.S has already has a sturdy silicon manufacturing sector for many years, and the recognition of innovations like this should see it continue to be restructured and reoriented in order to take advantage of 3D printing technology and new materials breakthroughs that have been made. Founded in Idaho back in 2001, American Semiconductor is currently the number one provider of flexible silicon and a market leader in the production of flexible hybrid electronics. The integration of low-cost 3D printed circuitry should allow the rest of the industry to follow the company’s lead and shift from rigid to more flexible offerings, as well as supporting the continued disruptions offered by the whole range of Industry 4.0 breakthroughs.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Cat of Many Faces wrote at 12/26/2017 2:12:33 PM:

Awesome! one more step towards having all my clothes be hacked into a bot net to steal elderly peoples retirement savings! Yay!

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