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InfoQ Homepage News ARM Releases PlasticARM, a Plastic-Based Flexible Microchip

ARM Releases PlasticARM, a Plastic-Based Flexible Microchip

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ARM takes another step forward towards powering the next generation of IoT: PlasticARM, its newly announced plastic-based microchip that enables the composition of 18000 logic gates, 12 times more than previous models, in the most complex flexible microchip to date.

With processors becoming more and more ubiquitous, when creating real networks of electronics there was still a boundary to cross: the plain everyday objects requiring physical flexibility of materials, such as clothing, packaging, even bandages. Even though the manufacturing costs of processors decreased by year passing, it was prohibitive for them to be incorporated in commodity products.

The public release of PlasticARM, the outcome of the partnership between ARM and PragmaticIC, provides the technology to build flexible electronic devices that could be printed on alternative substrates such as paper, plastic or metal foil. By using thin film semiconductor material such as organics, metal oxides or amorphous silicon, they offer a number of advantages over silicon including thinness, conformability and low manufacturing costs.

In comparison with metal-oxide-semiconductor-field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) that are fabricated on crystalline silicon wafers, thin-film transistors (TFTs) can be fabricated on flexible substrates at lower processing costs.

The flexible CPU is the missing link for developing fully flexible electronics as sensors, memories, light-emitting diodes and others were already prototyped. With this gap being closed, the possibilities are endless; it's a new way of looking at everything, as stated by John Biggs, distinguished engineer at Arm Research:

As ultra-low-cost microprocessors become commercially viable, all sort of markets will open with interesting use cases such as smart sensors, smart labels and intelligent packaging. Products using these devices could help with sustainability by reducing food waste and promote the circular economy with smart life-cycle tracking. Personally, I think that the biggest impact could be in healthcare – this technology really lends itself to building intelligent disposable health monitoring systems that can be applied directly to the skin.

Forty years after the release of 4004, the first commercial CPU, by Intel, Arm is attempting to make computing history by opening up the path for flexible CPUs. With this new milestone reached, the pervasive effect of ARM processors may become wider spread. By promising to take the "Internet Of Things" to the "Internet Of everyThings", this will allow computing to be incorporated into mundane things like clothing or even packaging, which in turn can provide the ability to write applications that will tell you when food is spoiled or you need to take a shower.

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