The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and American Semiconductor have collaborated to create a new 3D printed silicon chip that will bring together both previous and newer techniques for assisting with today’s innovative networked realities.
Their scientific goal has been to further the area of embedded objects, popular in 3D printed projects centered around electronics, as they work to:
- Establish more innovative connections
- Communicate data
- Transfer information
With silicon chips that are even smarter and capable of forging more improved connections, companies using such technology can look forward to exponentially more memory, power—and all in a much smaller, lighter device.
“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.”
These new pieces allow for maximum versatility, able to flex and bend. The scientists involved project that they will be helpful in new technology such as wearables, as well as soft robotics—perhaps even to monitor individual’s energy levels; for example, some senior citizens or soldiers need to have their fatigue levels watched.
“This helps bring things like wearable sensors into the ‘internet-of-things.’ Now you can monitor things like hydration levels, temperature, strain from an arm flexing, and more,” said Berrigan.
The chip is expected to further the microcontroller industry too. The 3D printed devices they have created offer ‘onboard memory’ which can not only power a system but also take in large amounts of data for scientific examination. These new circuits have 7,000 times more memory than any other devices available in the commercial market.
The chip also won the ‘Best New Material or Component Development Award’ for the Wearable Technology Category at the 2017 IDTechEx Show.
“It’s capable of turning a system on and off, and it can also collect data from a sensor and retain it in memory. 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,” said Berrigan.
“Whereas the European industrial base is focused on printing all parts of these types of devices, we are helping the U.S. silicon manufacturing community to convert to flexible capabilities and integrating this with low cost, 3D printed electronic circuitry. This is a unique U.S. manufacturing capability.”
“Being recognized as one of the best in the world truly underlies the benefits of military and industry working together to meet Air Force needs,” said Berrigan.
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