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The World's First Flexible Organic Microprocessor

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the can't-wait-for-free-range-cpus dept.

Hardware 53

An anonymous reader writes "European researchers at Imec recently announced the development of the world's first flexible organic microprocessor at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco CA. 'The 4000-transistor, 8-bit logic circuit has the processing power of only a 1970s-era silicon model, but it has a key advantage—it can bend. The device’s designers say the chip could lead the way to cheaper flexible displays and sensors. Wrapped around pipes, for example, sheets of sensors with these processors could record average water pressure, and wrapped around food and pharmaceuticals, they might indicate that your tuna is rancid or that you forgot to take your pills.'"

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Wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312640)

The world's 1st flexible organic microprocessor was probably some type of worm, circa 500 million years ago.

Re:Wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312784)

Three cheers for pedantry everybody!

Re:Wrong... (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313402)

The world's 1st flexible organic microprocessor was probably some type of worm, circa 500 million years ago.

A 500 million year old worm called, he said "my organic microprocessor was flexible enough to work out that they meant 'man made'".

Re:Wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35316696)

... and his name was Wiggly Woo.

What about my tuna? (2)

binaryseraph (955557) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312646)

..they might indicate that your tuna is rancid...

My god, man, where are you getting your tuna from?

Re:What about my tuna? (2)

rvw (755107) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312774)

..they might indicate that your tuna is rancid...

My god, man, where are you getting your tuna from?

Don't mind him. He forgot to take his pills!

Re:What about my tuna? (2)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312782)

It's a truly lazy person who needs a microprocessor to detect rancid tuna.

Re:What about my tuna? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313110)

That's why I need these flexible microprocessors. It's a win-win!

Re:What about my tuna? (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313746)

It's a truly lazy person who needs a microprocessor to detect rancid tuna.

Do they let you open each can in a supermarket shelf to find out which ones are rancid?

Re:What about my tuna? (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#35316244)

My god, man, where are you getting your tuna from?

You don't want to know.

Gaffit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312794)

Yes, it may bend, but more importantly, will it blend?

Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (2)

lixee (863589) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312796)

I haven't seen the device, but this is not an all-organic device. From TFA, at least part of the electrodes are made of gold. Moreover, they use pentacene as a semiconductor, which is probably deposited with CVD. The IEEE article is tagged with "printed electronics" and I seriously doubt they managed to make this using the soluble form of pentacene (i.e. TIPS-pentacene). Still, this is not to poop on the achevement. It's a nifty feat and congrats to the team that managed to make this.

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312964)

Fabricating the 25-micrometer-thick chip starts with a substrate made from polyethylene naphthalate—a plastic. ”You could compare it to the material that you use to wrap your sandwiches,” says Genoe. ”It’s very flexible.” On top, the team placed a 25-nanometer-thick layer of gold, patterned to make the circuit. Above that sits an organic dielectric, followed by a second patterned gold layer, and finally the organic semiconductor, made of pentacene.

What makes pentacene inorganic, again? And nowhere did they claim it was 100% organic...

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (1)

lixee (863589) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313232)

Pentacene is organic. I was refering to the fact that this is tagged in TFA as "printed electronics" when it's not. Like I said, this is a nifty device that deserve applause and recognition. I was just putting things in perspective.

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313392)

Last I checked, gold was naturally-occurring - and therefore organic.

I don't think they're trying to say it has 0 chemical or carbon footprint for manufacture, but that all the materials it is made of are natural/organic.

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (2)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313450)

Last I checked, gold was naturally-occurring - and therefore organic.

I don't think they're trying to say it has 0 chemical or carbon footprint for manufacture, but that all the materials it is made of are natural/organic.

I don't think they're using the "organic food" definition of organic, but the chemistry definition of organic.

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313486)

Last I checked, "naturally occurring" had nothing to do with the multiple definitions of organic.

Re:Nice, but it's not properly "organic" (1)

georgesdev (1987622) | more than 3 years ago | (#35348618)

Last I checked, gold was naturally-occurring - and therefore organic

That's not my definition of organic. or else most of the earth is organic too ;)

But... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312820)

...will it blend?

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313236)

fuck off

Applications? (2)

Spykk (823586) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312828)

Microprocessors have become small enough that flexibility isn't necessary for the applications cited in the summary. I can't really think of any situations where a flexible microprocessor would be more appropriate than a suitably small one...

Re:Applications? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313364)

Microprocessors have become small enough that flexibility isn't necessary for the applications cited in the summary. I can't really think of any situations where a flexible microprocessor would be more appropriate than a suitably small one...

That certainly seems to make sense. The only thing I wonder about is making electrical connections to things that are that small, either to attach power, or to attach sensors. My understanding of the flexible circuitry field is that one of the main goals is not just flexibility, but printability, so that the NRE and manufacturing and NRE costs are very, very low. Building circuitry with sensors made out of low-cost ink printed on paper or an inexpensive plastic means the same hulking printers used to make labels can be used to make smart labels. But since it's not my field, I might just be full of hooey.

Re:Applications? (1)

joesteeve (2002048) | more than 3 years ago | (#35314164)

Building circuitry with sensors made out of low-cost ink printed on paper or an inexpensive plastic means the same hulking printers used to make labels can be used to make smart labels. But since it's not my field, I might just be full of hooey.

:) Like print it on a bundle of papers and make a cluster out of them? :D

Re:Applications? (1)

SkOink (212592) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313534)

I would assume the big advantage comes in new applications benefiting from their flexibility, such as the pipe pressure sensors mentioned in the OP. While I agree there's no need to worry about saving space, there could be significant cost reduction and easier complexity if you could actually build your microprocessor on the same flexible substrate as your pressure sensor.

Re:Applications? (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35314694)

The "global communicator" used in earth final conflict. Huge screen, the size of a big pen. Or small screen : roll it out halfway ...

scale (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 3 years ago | (#35321678)

A bike chain is not really all that flexible, even in the direction of the hinging.

Also, I have seen, recently, bicycles with rubber belts (with teeth). I'm not sure why, but some people seem to think they are worth manufacturing.

Flexibility has its uses. In this case, the flexibility may be useful at scales where the simply small well tend to bind, much the way a bike chain will tend to bind.

thanks for the reminder! (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312830)

... or that you forgot to take your pills.

I did forget, thanks!

Organic? No pesticides? (2)

thomasdz (178114) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312854)

I like my semiconductors happy, free-run, pesticide free, and grown on certified hobby farms. I'm glad the official organic label has finally been applied.
and no, I didn't RTFA

Re:Organic? No pesticides? (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35315962)

The official "organic" is stupid, because many organic compounds are not of biological origin; e.g. fluorinated or chlorinated hydrocarbons. Even compounds carbon-silicon bonds are called "organosilicon".

Then there is the problem that some molecules in living things have inorganic components, like organo-metallic compounds (haemoglobin, chlorophyll, ...).

The "organic food" people have reclaimed the word for a use which is closer to what it suggests: originating in the organs of a living thing.

A pesticide with chlorinated benzene rings does not originate in a living thing, and neither does silicone rubber.

Re:Organic? No pesticides? (1)

internettoughguy (1478741) | more than 3 years ago | (#35317178)

The "organic food" people have reclaimed the word for a use which is closer to what it suggests: originating in the organs of a living thing.

In other words the neo-Luddite "organic food" people have rekindled vitalism.

It can bend (1)

slim (1652) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312874)

'The 4000-transistor, 8-bit logic circuit has the processing power of only a 1970s-era silicon model, but it has a key advantage—it can bend.

Did anyone else read "it can blend"?

Re:It can bend (1)

Massacrifice (249974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312986)

Did anyone else read "it can blend"?

I did, and the question remains.

An organic processor blended with Vodka and tomato juice, on ice, would give an entire new meaning to "running JavaScript benchmarks on V8"

Re:It can bend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313070)

V8 is vegetables juice, not (only) tomato juice.

Re:It can bend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35319496)

Add a celery stick.

4000 transistors is what I noticed. (1)

reiisi (1211052) | more than 3 years ago | (#35321708)

I didn't think about blending (although it's an interesting thought, would these tend (statistically) to survive a blender or to be blended by a blender?

But what I noticed is that 4000 would be a bit over half the transistors necessary for a 6809, and that induced a daydream about running a bunch of OS9-6809 hardware instances in the bracelet you give your wife. Or having a cluster of TRS 80 Color Computers in your belt.

What about the brain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312894)

I seem to recall the brain is organic, and it's a processor. And in Worf's case, indeed, a microprocessor.

Not quite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35312904)

My brain is an organic processor and some people accuse it of being microscopic!

What happened to /.? (-1, Offtopic)

Monsieur_F (531564) | more than 3 years ago | (#35312996)

It used to be working well even without javascript. Now it seems I cannot answer to a comment (but I can begin a new comment thread?) even with javascript activated. Where is the bug tracker anyway?

Possible use: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313016)

Summary made a mention of using them to track water pressure - why not use them tracker water temperature?

Lots of older homes ( not to mention city infrastructure in my region ) are using old pipes and nobody really knows when they are going to freeze. A system that tracks the water temperature ( and the temp of the pipe itself, I guess ) would give people a warning ahead of time when their water pipes are dipping near freezing point.

Would it really be useful in a large scale thing with the city? Probably not. It'd be prohibitively expensive to fit all these pipes with the sensors even if only at regular intervals.

At a smaller scale, I think'd it be more useful. A little computer setup that emails you when your pipe hits a programmable low point, so you can make preparations to fix the problem or clean the mess, and maybe texts you when your pipe hits freezing.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is already patented either. It seems like something you'd give a catchy name ( Pipedog! ) and sell for 20 bucks with a matching smoke alarm at 1am in the paid programming slots.

Your Tuna And-Or Your Pills: (+2, Recalcitrant ) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313018)

"they might indicate that your tuna is rancid or that you forgot to take your pills."

OR

that you are or ARE NOT a member of the

PARTY-That-Wants-You-To-Work-For-Lower-Wages-And-Benefits [youtube.com] .

Yours In Akademgorodok,
Kilgore Trout

Useful for aviation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313020)

You could impregnate the skin and substructure of aircraft with these to give the aircraft a "nervous system" to help detect areas of abnormally high stress or fracture. I bet they could be used to detect ice buildup on wings as well. Hell... you could probably use them to detect air pressure distribution along the flying surfaces to help detect stalls, impending windshear and ambient atmospheric anomalies as well. I wonder if they could withstand the forces/temperatures inside a turbine engine?

uh... not to knock this but... (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313164)

Not to knock the tech but how was microchip rigidity stopping you from putting these sensors in the lids/walls of these containers (tuna can, pill bottle, pipes) before? It's not like any of them bend much in their usage...

Sweet! (2)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313208)

I've always wanted a can of tuna that can run CP/M

I can hardly wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35313210)

I can hardly wait for the latest batch of snobbery organic food crowd. "My computer runs using purely organic parts."

Re:I can hardly wait (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313466)

I can hardly wait for the latest batch of snobbery organic food crowd. "My computer runs using purely organic parts."

What about geek snobbery? "My organic processor won't evolve into Skynet like your cold logic-bound emotionless processor will."

Key advantage... bah (1, Funny)

aztektum (170569) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313516)

...it has a key advantageâ"it can bend.

Meh. Let me know when it can blend.

Bendable chips fitting round pipes? (1)

Spookticus (985296) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313562)

Why not just make the pipes cubic instead of round :P

Re:Bendable chips fitting round pipes? (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35315818)

Pipes often have to withstand pressure. A square pipe is suboptimal for pressure.

A pressurized cylinder expands evenly all around, but a pressurized prism will pincushion, leading to a large concentration of stress at the corners.

Thus a square pipe would have to be a lot thicker to achieve the same maximum pressure rating as a round pipe made from the same material.

Round pipes are easier to route. A pre-formed elbow piece fitted to a round pipe can be rotated in any direction.

Low pressure ducts (e.g. air ducts in buildings) are often rectangular, because that is not an issue for them, and making them that way maximizes their cross-sectional area within a building space that is itself rectangular. (The bigger the cross-sectional area, the more efficient the flow).

That being said, I think it's ridiculous to suggest that a chip that resides on the surface of a pipe (whose diameter is much larger than the chip) must be flexible!

Nomenclature (1)

return 42 (459012) | more than 3 years ago | (#35313942)

So...instead of being called hardware, these would be...software? I'm so confused!

And wrapped around your dick... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35314422)

It would serve you in the most unusual ways.

Why is the flexibility important? (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35315588)

A bicycle chain is made of rigid links, yet appears flexible. Objects flexible on a large scale don't have to be made up of small-scale components which are themselves flexible.

A flexible film can contain tiny inflexible chips.

Suppose a thin film, like food wrap, is bent to a curvature of 0.25 cm radius. That's not actually a significant curvature on the scale of something that is much smaller than a millimeter.

It does sound like these engineers touting the flexibility of the processor not because it's an important real-world requirement, but only because it justifies the work they are doing.

Re:Why is the flexibility important? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35321824)

A normal chip IS slightly flexible, and that's the problem; if you embed one in a flexible surface, then even if the chip is only a few square millimeters, the flexing of the surface flexes the chip and breaks components in it. The reason this isn't a problem in present day devices is that the chip is in a rigid package, plugged into a rigid socket, often with a rigid heatsink on it, and with a rigid motherboard below.

Thus, currently, to get a chip on something flexible, it can't be an actual part of the surface; it has to be in some kind of rigid protective package and then stuck on to the surface, and that deforms the surface when the surface is flexed.

Further, your bicycle chain flexes in a very specific way (I assume you mean the chain on the gear teeth, not the chain you use to chain it to a bike rack). A flexible display, on the other hand, would ideally be safe to flex or twist at any angle. (Plus the density of pixels required means you wouldn't be able to pack in enough inflexible subcomponents while still allowing the surface to bend).

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