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Electronics: Plastic microprocessor flexes its power

Nature

July 22, 2021

A flexible 32-bit microprocessor that could facilitate the development of low-cost, fully flexible smart integrated systems is showcased in Nature this week.

Microprocessors are a key component of all electronic devices, from laptops to cars to a range of ‘smart’ devices. Conventional silicon technology dominates the world of computing devices, but the cost and limited flexibility of silicon microprocessors limits their viability in the effort to make everyday objects, such as food packages and clothing, smarter. Flexible electronics can address these issues, but it has been challenging to produce a flexible microprocessor with enough transistors to perform meaningful computations.

Using a combination of metal−oxide thin-film transistors and a flexible polyimide (a high-performance plastic) substrate called the PlasticARM, Emre Ozer, John Biggs and colleagues produce a fully flexible 32-bit microprocessor. The processor is integrated into a circuit that is capable of running programs from its internal memory; the current version cannot be updated after fabrication, but the authors suggest that a programmable memory could be implemented in future iterations. The PlasticARM contains more transistors and around 12 times more logic gates than the best previous flexible integrated circuit built with metal−oxide thin-film transistors, the authors note. This thin, low-cost, flexible microprocessor could pave the way towards turning everyday objects into smart devices.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03625-w

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