These bendy plastic chips fit in unusual places
Like anyone he designs computer chips for living, James Myers, at his base, is a silicon boy. “Silicon is great,” he says. Because it is bright natural semiconductor—It is able to drive electricity and act as an insulator, depending on the conditions — and because it can be done on a small scale. Bright, because it is the second most common element on Earth, probably stuck in the soles of shoes right now and easily formed by heating sand. These attributes have become the basis of almost every technology we use today. People like Myers, an engineer at a British semiconductor company Kiss, they mostly think about how to get more silicon into a little space, the exponential march of thousands of exponentials transistors Billions per chip in the 1970s. Together Moor’s law, As Myers puts it, we are “swimming in silicon”.
In recent years, however, Myers has looked beyond silicon to other materials, such as plastic. This means starting all over again. A few years ago, his team started designing dozens of transistors, then hundreds and now as plastic chips was reported in Nature on Wednesday, ten thousand. The 32-bit microprocessor has 18,000 logic gates — the electrical switches you get when you combine transistors — and the basic lobes of your computer brain: processor, memory, controller, inputs and outputs, and so on. What can he do about it? Think desktop since the early 1980s.
Why turn the tech clock? Because it is modern silicon french fries they are fragile and flexible leaves of electronics. Under stress, they crunch. Although silicon is cheap and cheaper, there are some use cases that are never cheap enough. Consider a computer chip placed inside a milk carton, replacing the printed expiration date with a sensor that detects broken chemical signs. Useful? Good luck! But if the cost is low, it’s worth adding billions of milk cans. One app is testing Arm’s chest-mounted chip, which monitors the patient for arrhythmia – it’s a consistent and lilting heartbeat – and should be thrown away within hours. To do this, you want a computer that is cheap but, more importantly, one that gets worse. “He has to move with you and not get out,” Myers says.
Some materials can theoretically satisfy these needs. Researchers have built transistors with organic materials and designed substrates — the wafer that transistors insert — from metal as well as paper. The chip, described by the Myers team on Wednesday, is made up of “thin film transistors” made of metal oxide, a mixture of indium, gallium and zinc that can be thinner than silicon. The substrate is polyimide, a kind of plastic rather than a silicon sheet. It’s cheap, slim, and flexible — and it’s a bit of a pain for engineers, too. Plastic melts at a lower temperature than silicon, which means that some heat-related production techniques are no longer available. And thin transistors can have faults, which means that energy does not move through the circuit as chip manufacturers expect. Compared to modern chips, the design also uses much more power. Myers points out that these are the same problems that were complicated by flutists in the 1970s and 80s. Now he can sympathize with his older colleagues.
Compared to the billions found in modern 64-bit silicon processors, 18,000 doors doesn’t seem like much, but Myers speaks proudly. Of course, the microprocessor doesn’t do much; it just does some test codes he wrote five years ago, which makes sure all the components work. The chip can run code similar to one of Arm’s silicon-based processors.
This consistency with silicon devices is critical, explains research author Catherine Ramsdale and vice president of technology at PragmatIC, which designs and produces flexible chips with Arm. Although the new materials are new, the idea is to borrow as much as possible from the process of producing silicon chips. This makes it easier to mass-produce chips and keep costs down. Ramsdale says these chips can be worth about a tenth of a dozen silicon comparisons because of reduced plastic and equipment needs. It’s a “pragmatic” way of doing things, yes, he says.