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The First Plastic Computer Processor

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the won't-somebody-think-of-the-seagulls dept.

Hardware 73

jcombel writes "There's been a lot of talk lately about developing replacements for silicon; how about a nearly-transparent film of plastic, woven into clothing or affixed directly to equipment? From the article, 'Researchers in Europe used 4,000 plastic, or organic, transistors to create the plastic microprocessor, which measures roughly two centimeters square and is built on top of flexible plastic foil. ... The processor can so far run only one simple program of 16 instructions. The commands are hardcoded into a second foil etched with plastic circuits that can be connected to the processor to "load" the program. This allows the processor to calculate a running average of an incoming signal, something that a chip involved in processing the signal from a sensor might do.'"

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73 comments

Obligatory (4, Funny)

Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) | about 3 years ago | (#35612664)

16 instructions should be enough for everybody!

Re:Obligatory (2)

ashvagan (885082) | about 3 years ago | (#35612824)

It's not about speed, it's about reliability and durability.

Re:Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612854)

And carbon footprint!

Re:Obligatory (1)

donotlizard (1260586) | about 3 years ago | (#35613252)

Yeah, but, can it run Linux?

Re:Obligatory (1)

rvw (755107) | about 3 years ago | (#35616354)

Yeah, but, can it run Linux?

Now you can run in Linux, how about that?

Re:Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35616848)

Yeah, but, can it run Linux?

Now you can run in Linux, how about that?

More like: Can a Linux user run at all?

6502 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612692)

They should implement the 6502 processor and add an SDHC interface(s) for expansion.

Re:6502 (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#35613058)

You just made me imagine a miniaturized NES, the size of a dime. You realize that right? Little SDHC goes in the tiny cart slot... Connects to TV using mini HDMI.. Bluetooth controllers.

Shame on you, making me imagine such a silly thing!

128 bit word length? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612762)

FTA:

The chip runs at a speed of six hertz-on the order of a million times slower than a modern desktop machine-and can only process information in eight-bit chunks at most, compared to 128 bits for modern computer processors.

Given that each core my desktop processor runs at 2.5 GHz, I'm running close to 500 million times faster than this chip, ignoring parallelization. Also, did I miss something, or are they also wrong at citing word length at 128 bits for modern processors? Or are they talking about something other than word length?

I would expect this kind of inaccuracy from a slashdot summary of an infoworld article, but not in an article in the MIT Technology Review. What is this world coming to?

Re:128 bit word length? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612822)

It says "at most", and as far as I know, many modern CPU's will have 128-bit FPUs for double precision calculations.

Re:128 bit word length? (1)

toastar (573882) | about 3 years ago | (#35614272)

um... isn't 64 bit double precision, and 128 quadruple precision.

I realize most computers are 64 bit now, but that IEEE 754 wasn't changed while i wasn't looking was it? I mean it was defined in the era of the 16 bit 286.

Re:128 bit word length? (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | about 3 years ago | (#35612828)

Call me when it can run Linux.

It can, but (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 3 years ago | (#35615466)

Very, very slowly indeed, and we are going to need an extremely long tape for it to operate on.

Forgetting Turing-complete machines for a moment, years ago I was asked to look at a circuit for controlling a stepper motor. It was overheating despite using CMOS logic. The designer was a mad genius; that is, he had implemented a gate-level-coded simple microprocessor with 16 instructions, and a hard-coded memory so that the 4 basic ops (up,down,left,right) each caused the thing to cycle through a set of those instructions at a maximum of 200 ips. But he hadn't understood what happened when you left gates floating in CMOS, so all the unused gates were floating and drawing a lot of current.

We replaced this amazing bit of design with a small PIC, in case you hadn't guessed.

Re:128 bit word length? (1)

plover (150551) | about 3 years ago | (#35615192)

FTA:

The chip runs at a speed of six hertz-on the order of a million times slower than a modern desktop machine-and can only process information in eight-bit chunks at most, compared to 128 bits for modern computer processors.

Maybe the article was written in 1984, back when 6MHz IBM PC-ATs roamed the earth, and the Technology Review editors just recovered it from the amber it had been fossilized in.

Re:128 bit word length? (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | about 3 years ago | (#35619258)

Data bus width, for the P4 and newer.

(Actually, some Nehalems are 192-bit, plus the extra ECC bits, IIRC.)

A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (0)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35612778)

foil [merriam-webster.com] noun

Definition of FOIL
1 : very thin sheet metal <aluminum foil>

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | about 3 years ago | (#35612816)

This means I can get chips in my tin foil hat? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of it?

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

muindaur (925372) | about 3 years ago | (#35612844)

The G Men want to remove your last line of defense protecting your thoughts and free will.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (2)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35612860)

This means I can get chips in my tin foil hat?

Sure, if you make your tinfoil hat out of the bag the chips came in. Might get your hair greasy, but that's a relatively small inconvenience.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

LoP_XTC (312463) | about 3 years ago | (#35614420)

Sure, if you make your tinfoil hat out of the bag the chips came in. Might get your hair greasier, but that's a relatively small inconvenience.

FTFY

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35620082)

This means I can get chips in my tin foil hat? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of it?

This tech isn't new, its been round since the 70's. You know that thin film of plastic on one side of tinfoil. The CIA put that there.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 3 years ago | (#35612870)

But that depends on your definition of metal, now doesn't it?
Is a plastic/metal polymer [thefutureofthings.com] considered metal?

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (3, Informative)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35612926)

No, that'd be a plastic/metal composite.

Also, composite does not mean the same thing as a polymer. A composite is a mixture of chemically distinct materials; in a polymer, the materials have chemically combined to form polymerized molecules.

Composite: a solid material which is composed of two or more substances having different physical characteristics and in which each substance retains its identity while contributing desirable properties to the whole

Polymer: a chemical compound or mixture of compounds formed by [a chemical reaction in which two or more molecules combine to form larger molecules that contain repeating structural units]

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

toetagger (642315) | about 3 years ago | (#35612878)

If you would keep reading the next line:
2 : a thin piece of material

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35612950)

In the specific and non-applicable case where that thin piece of material is used to add luster or color to a low-quality gemstone mounted above it.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35613092)

OK, how about this [b2b-packaging.com] then?

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (2)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35613188)

I don't think I'll permit a Chinese company to dictate proper use of the English language, nor a page entitled "Here you obtain information about plastic foils".

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35613470)

I don't think I'll permit a Chinese company to dictate proper use of the English language, nor a page entitled "Here you obtain information about plastic foils".

*laugh* OK, fair enough ... I've never heard the term before, and all of the hits for "plastic foil" seem to be Chinese companies.

The term seems to be in use, but nothing I would call authoritative on the subject. Though, someone filed a patent [freepatentsonline.com] relating to it.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612884)

Curses!, foiled again!

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

Tsaot (859424) | about 3 years ago | (#35612904)

Neither is it silicon. The point of the article is we have a potential silicon replacement for use in specialized cases. This kind of thing paves the way for interactive packaging or other embedded uses that silicon is just too big for.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 3 years ago | (#35616280)

I think they are speaking of "plastic" in the sense of the material having a high degree of plasticity [wikipedia.org], not that it's actually made from plastic [wikipedia.org].

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 3 years ago | (#35612910)

The definition for “foil” derives from the Latin word “folium”, which means folio. The beginnings of foils go back to the 16th century, whereas it should be mentioned that at that time a little metallic glossy sheet (of gold leaf) was named by the term foil. This served as the base for enclosed gemstones. Meanwhile the term foil has been extended a lot and describes various products like for example metallic foils, plastic foils, cling film, plastic bags or transparencies. The latter are used as carrier material for overhead projectors.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35613080)

Although Wiktionary has allowed the use of "foil" to describe transparencies, Webster still hasn't allowed that usage of the word. And neither of them allow "foil" to be used in the manner that you seem to think - to describe any kind of thin plastic film in general. If it is used to describe a plastic film, it must be specifically used either as the substrate of a gem or "on which marks are made and projected for the purposes of presentation", neither of which apply to this, nor to cling film or plastic bags as you suggested.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 3 years ago | (#35613552)

Although Wiktionary has allowed the use of "foil" to describe transparencies, Webster still hasn't allowed that usage of the word. And neither of them allow "foil" to be used in the manner that you seem to think - to describe any kind of thin plastic film in general.

It used to be foils were always made of metal, as reflected in those definitions. Times change. Also, the fact that you say "Webster still hasn't allowed..." and "neither of them allow" means you don't actually understand what a dictionary's function is. It documents how words are used. It does not now and never has had the power to dictate how they are used. The fact that Webster does not document this particular usage is, if the usage is becoming more popular, a failure in the dictionary to keep up to date it its function: to document how words are used.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35614106)

you don't actually understand what a dictionary's function is. It documents how words are used.

If you want to use a word in a manner which the dictionary doesn't acknowledge, you are welcome to do so in private communications with others who understand that usage, but if you are writing to a broader audience who isn't aware of your non-standard definitions you should use standard words and standard meanings of words, as the dictionary has documented them to be.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

knight24k (1115643) | about 3 years ago | (#35614506)

you don't actually understand what a dictionary's function is. It documents how words are used.

If you want to use a word in a manner which the dictionary doesn't acknowledge, you are welcome to do so in private communications with others who understand that usage, but if you are writing to a broader audience who isn't aware of your non-standard definitions you should use standard words and standard meanings of words, as the dictionary has documented them to be.

Except for the fact that dictionaries will not make alterations or additions until the words or usage are in wide and accepted use. So what you are proposing is a catch-22. We shouldn't use such definitions until they are standard, but they can't become standard if they are not used.

FYI only recently was added (I have issues with acronyms in the dictionary, but that's another rant). You cannot say that it was not standard usage in many business communications for years, regardless of it not being included in the dictionary. This goes for every addition or modification that dictionary publishers make. Until it is a standard the definition will not be changed to reflect that.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 3 years ago | (#35613662)

well I do not think Webster is GOD of language anyway, and looking up the term plasic foil will yeild a billion results on the topic (besides is it not acting as a substrate for a form of crystal or gem? in this application)

your argument can be put into the silly light by replacing foil with computer and in reverse, noun and only definition is for a machine, though for hundreds of years computer was a position in accounting, websters does not list that, so that MUST mean its complete horseshit right?

maybe the book is wrong, just sayin

also for a little personal experience, the first time I heard foil to describe thin plastic is from one of my friends darn near 90 year old English grandmother, so that term has been around since probably the invention of the stuff

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35614218)

Although Wiktionary has allowed the use of "foil" to describe transparencies, Webster still hasn't allowed that usage of the word.

Dude, when "OMG" and "LOL" get added to the Oxford Dictionary [vancouversun.com], it's too late to start worrying about what's "allowed".

Let's face it, if they're just adding "rotoscope" and "suicide door" to the lexicon (both words which have been around for ever), a dictionary isn't always definitive on what words people are using in practice.

You can now be free to make up geek-bonics as you please. ;-)

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 3 years ago | (#35612948)

Nor are organic transistors "plastic"

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (2)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35613010)

How do you figure? They are "plastic" in both the noun and adjective senses.

Plastic (n): any of numerous organic synthetic or processed materials that are mostly thermoplastic or thermosetting polymers of high molecular weight and that can be made into objects, films, or filaments

Plastic (adj): capable of being molded or modeled

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 3 years ago | (#35687088)

I see that plastics are by definition organic, but fail to see how organic transistors are by definition plastic. My objection was to the use of plastic as a kind of simplified buzzword: yes indeed these materials fulfill the technical criteria for being considered plastics (though given the fact that it's a tiny bit of actual semiconductor material drowned in an ocean of regular ol' hydrocarbon, this isn't surprising) but to call this a "plastic computer" makes it sound like we're making it out of used bottlecaps or something. The materials they use are in fact, highly specialized organic compounds which are usually synthesized specifically for their electronic properties. Work in organic semiconductors has been progressing for decades in many different disciplines, and if this article were about how the researchers managed to get materials designed to conduct electricity to conduct electricity, it wouldn't be very interesting at all. It is in fact about how a circuit was created using said conducting material, a material which bears less resemblance to commerical plastics than gasoline does to olive oil. They certainly aren't criminals for zazzing up their soundbite, but a vehicle powered by jet fuel does not an rocket car make, and while the difference between organic and inorganic circuits could be characterized as "plastic vs. metal" it's hardly right to call that rigorous.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35688136)

I see that plastics are by definition organic, but fail to see how organic transistors are by definition plastic.

AFAIK, any organic polymer that is thermoplastic/thermosetting is a plastic.

Organic: carbon-based
Polymer: large molecule made up of repeating basic units
Thermoplastic/thermosetting: more plastic/moldable at higher temperatures and/or solidifying or just becoming stiffer at low temperature

They meet those criteria, so they're plastic. At least, the film used as the substrate certainly does.

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

StikyPad (445176) | about 3 years ago | (#35612960)

I guess you could say that "plastic foil does not compute!" Hah! You know, cause it *does* compute, but it also doesn't make sense? Like that one show about the Star Wars: "That does not make sense!!"

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35615160)

Maybe they are meaning from an astronomy perspective:

metal
7: astronomy: Also called: heavy element any element heavier than helium

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/metal

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | about 3 years ago | (#35615252)

Ridiculous! That would mean that diamonds are the hardest metal known to man...

Re:A sheet of plastic is not "foil". (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 3 years ago | (#35616594)

foil [merriam-webster.com] noun

Definition of FOIL
1 : very thin sheet metal <aluminum foil>

Curses foiled again.

I feel fun hobby coming on (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 years ago | (#35612858)

long before we can "print" similar circuits at home? interesting non-digital apps come to mind also

Re:I feel fun hobby coming on (1)

Migraineman (632203) | about 3 years ago | (#35613592)

Bathtub semiconductors? I've developed B&W film in my bathtub, and I've done some small scale glass etching with silkscreens and Armour Etch. [amazon.com] Maybe this would provide an opportunity to re-task all those photo enlargers that are gathering dust in the closet.

The wife will have my head if I try to convert her new LG front-load dryer into a CVD oven.

Re:I feel fun hobby coming on (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 years ago | (#35623580)

just use her toaster oven for your CVD processing instead, I've found after you heavy-metal contaminate it by healing NVidia card's cold solder joints, and explain the situation, wife doesn't want it anymore.

The big question remains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612906)

Can we run Linux with it?

And I still fail to see a use.... (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about 3 years ago | (#35612936)

Honestly, how is this better than a silicon die in a Plastic carrier? I already can make a processor so thin that you would not feel it in a shirt, and you can waterproof it so it will survive washings. Flexing is not an issue as it's too tiny to care.

Other than a "neat-o lookie what we did" aspect, I can not see any practical use to replace a silicon die of the same thing.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (4, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#35612988)

BCI devices.

A flexible sheet of plastic is more durable inside a human body than is a silicon substrate. Especially in soft tissues, like brain tissues. It weighs less, and as such tugs less on the tissue when the subject moves around, theoretically resulting in less neural scar tissue.

Alternatively, REALLY cheap processors for consumer toys.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (1)

hitmark (640295) | about 3 years ago | (#35614102)

And would allow for printing of replacement chips for various products rather then order from some central supplier.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 3 years ago | (#35612992)

Silicon chip manufacturing is a massive PITA, maybe this way will be easier.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35615414)

Probably not.

Also every time 'flexible' processors come up they talk about weaving it into clothing. I have been hard pressed to think why 'normal' people would want this. For specialized things oh I can think of those by the bucketful. If it is in the cloths which most people switch out every day you would want it in all of them... Then there is battery life. Not to mention wash-ability as the wash bin is a very harsh environment. Not 100% sure why this keeps coming up.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35613008)

$$$

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35613454)

So a RepRap [reprap.org] can print more of itself?

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35613814)

Yes, but for that one tiny usable processor, there will be who knows how many others failures.

The large size also means the manufacturing costs will be really small.

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35615468)

I think the point was that we can move away from relying on metals and traditional semiconductors

That Arpanet thing will go nowhere (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 3 years ago | (#35617858)

Who would ever want to hook a bunch off different computers together. It's a lot cheaper and more reliable to ship 9 track mag tapes if you need to move real data, or just lease some lines from the phone company,

Re:And I still fail to see a use.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35619586)

organic transistors in plastic is something that would go a long way towards self-replicating machine's. For example the ability to print circuits would allow RepRap (3d printer) to almost completely build itself.

The Daily Chimpout (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35612944)

Today, featuring PCB BK [youtube.com]

I've got one, too (1)

bgspence (155914) | about 3 years ago | (#35617016)

It's got 22 instructions and is made entirely of plastic legos.

Now I need to figure how to make legos smaller and smaller.

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