A partnership between the research arm of the U.S. Air Force and a private company in the semiconductor business has resulted in the development of a pliable microchip.
The Air Force Research Laboratory and American Semiconductor have collaborated to create a flexible silicon-on-polymer chip featuring an onboard memory designed to be 7,000 times larger compared to devices in the market, the AFRL said on Dec. 21, 2017.
Dan Berringan, a research scientist at the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, said that the rigidness of brittle conventional silicon-based integrated circuits prevents integration into flexible form factor.
He added that the collaborative work thinned the silicon integrated circuit chips in aims to obtain flexibility while sustaining functionality.
The pliant characteristic of the microcontroller allows for installation on systems such wearable devices and in soft robotics to aid the elderly or injured warfighters.
The devices with the microcontroller will allow integration with the internet of things such as wearable sensors for monitoring hydration levels, temperature, and arm flex strain, Berringan said.
The microcontroller’s memory allows for data collection for future analysis.
Berringan noted that the microchip allows for switching systems from on or off states and sensor data gathering and storage for installation in components and logistics systems such as fuel bladder sensors for leakage detection, munitions inventory tracking and cold-chain monitoring through temperature sensing to address Air Force requirements.
The effort supports future needs preparation of U.S. silicon manufacturing base.
Berringan remarked that the European industrial base prints components of devices similar to the microcontroller while the AFRL effort intends to aid U.S. silicon manufacturers in adapting production of flexible components and integration with three-dimensionally printed circuitry.
The flexible system-on-chip has been recognized at the 2017 IDTechEx Show garnering the “Best New Material or Component Development Award” under the “Wearable Technology Category.”
The development of the circuit ran for a year with the Defense Department‘s Rapid Reaction Technology Office serving as one of the sponsors.