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These Bendy Plastic Chips Fit in Unusual Places

Stanford University
Condé Nast
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James Myers
Catherine Ramsdale
Eric Pop
Subhasish Mitra


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The New York Times
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People like Myers, an engineer at the British semiconductor firm Arm, mostly spend their time thinking about how to pack more silicon into less space—an exponential march from thousands of transistors per chip in the 1970s to billions today. The chip can run the same sort of code as one of Arm’s common, silicon-based processors.That consistency with silicon devices is key, explains Catherine Ramsdale, a coauthor of the research and senior vice president of technology at PragmatIC, which designs and produces the flexible chips with Arm. While the materials are new, the idea is to borrow as much as possible from the production process for silicon chips. Ramsdale says these chips might cost about one-tenth as much as comparable silicon chips, because of the cheap plastic and reduced equipment needs. It’s, yes, a “pragmatic” way of going about things, she says.Eric Pop, an electrical engineer at Stanford University who wasn’t involved with the research, says he’s impressed with the complexity of the chip and the sheer number of transistors it contains. “What are you going to do, hook yourself up to a giant battery?” Pop asks.Myers says the plan for these small chips is to use wireless charging with technology similar to what’s used to pay with a smartphone. The trade-off in both cases is likely to be higher manufacturing costs.Subhasish Mitra, a computer scientist at Stanford who led the first demonstration of a carbon nanotube computer in 2013, says that while Arm’s design does not appear to demonstrate any theoretical breakthroughs, the researchers appear to have produced a device that’s relatively easy to manufacture and usable for practical applications. “I think that’s what the exciting part of this is.”Which flexible materials ultimately make sense will depend on how a chip needs to be used, Pop explains.

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