Arm releases low-cost flexible plastic chips to achieve “Internet of Everything”

This technology allows trillions of daily necessities such as clothes and food containers to collect, process and transmit data on the Internet, which may bring convenience to retailers.

British chip design company Arm has just released a prototype of a new plastic chip called PlasticARM. By printing circuits directly on paper, plastic or fabric, such chips can be manufactured at a very low cost, which will help build ” A world where everything is connected.

Arm releases low-cost flexible plastic chips to achieve "Internet of Everything"

Plastic chips are soft and cheap, and can be printed almost anywhere

In recent decades, the size of processors has been shrinking to the point that they have become ubiquitous in daily necessities, from TVs to washing machines, from smart phones to watches. However, almost all chips today are rigid devices made from silicon wafers in highly specialized and expensive factories.

Arm has now developed a low-cost flexible chip, which is a 32-bit processor, whose circuits and components can be printed on a plastic substrate, just like a printer deposits ink on paper. This technology allows trillions of daily necessities such as clothes and food containers to collect, process and transmit data on the Internet, which may bring convenience to retailers.

Although PlasticARM is not the first flexible chip, it is the most complex, consisting of 56,340 components, including 32-bit Cortex-M0 CPU (the cheapest and simplest processor core in the Arm Cortex-M series), and 456 bytes ROM and 128 bytes RAM. It has more than 18,000 logic gates, and Arm says its number is at least 12 times that of previous plastic chips.

PlasticARM was designed by Arm in collaboration with flexible electronics manufacturer PragmatIC. As the company’s designers explained in a paper published in the journal Nature, PlasticARM does not yet have the same functions as silicon chip design. For example, it can only run three test programs that are hard-wired into the circuit during the manufacturing process, but Arm researchers say they are developing future versions that allow the installation of new code.

Arm releases low-cost flexible plastic chips to achieve "Internet of Everything"

Arm’s PlasticARM chip is not the fastest or most efficient, but it is the most flexible

The special thing about PlasticARM and similar chips is that they use flexible flexible components. For example, PlasticARM uses metal oxide thin film transistors (TFT). Unlike processors based on fragile silicon substrates, these chips can be printed on curved surfaces without degradation. This makes it possible to inexpensively print processors on materials such as plastic and paper.

As the Arm researchers explained in their paper, this will allow microchips to be used for various purposes that seem wasteful today. For example, you can print a chip on each milk bottle to mark whether it has deteriorated. Arm said that this will create a new “Internet of Everything” world, this chip will be integrated into “more than 1 trillion inanimate objects” in the next decade.

However, plastic-based chips also have major flaws and will certainly not replace silicon processors in the short term. They are too inefficient in terms of energy consumption, density and performance. For example, PlasticARM consumes 21 milliwatts of power, but 99% of it is wasted and only 1% is used for calculations. The chip area is also relatively large, 59.2 square millimeters, which is about 1500 times the size of the silicon-based Cortex M0 processor.

As Arm research engineer James Myers said: “PlasticARM will not be fast, and it is not an energy-saving chip, but it is a good idea to put it on lettuce to track the shelf life. At the same time, we are still looking for other uses. Can it be used in smart packaging? Can it be used as a gas sensor to tell us whether something is safe to eat? Can it be used in wearable health patches? These are all things we are considering Interesting project.”

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