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Transistor Made From Cotton Yarn

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the your-socks-want-more-ram dept.

Hardware 92

MrSeb writes "Altering the very fabric of technophilic society, a multinational team of material scientists have created electric circuits and transistors out of cotton fibers (abstract). Two kinds of transistor were created: a field-effect transistor (FET), much like the transistors found in your computer's CPU; and an electrochemical transistor, which is similar but capable of switching at lower voltages, and thus better suited for wearable computers. Cotton itself is an insulator, but by using various coatings, the team from Italy, France, and the United States was able to make conductor and semiconductor cotton 'wires' that retained most of their flexibility. The immediate use-cases are clothes with built-in sensors (think radiation or heartbeat monitors), but ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"

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92 comments

Punchcards (5, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536140)

One of the first uses of punchcards-- indeed turing's inspirations-- was feeding patterns into looms. Somehow this is satisfyingly full circle in the age of steam punk.

Re:Punchcards (5, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536158)

It actually predates Turing all the way back to Hollerith taking his inspiration from the Jacquard Loom http://www.divms.uiowa.edu/~jones/cards/history.html [uiowa.edu]

Re:Punchcards (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536530)

It actually predates Turing all the way back to Hollerith taking his inspiration from the Jacquard Loom

Do you mean Jean Loom Jacquard, Captain of the USS Interweave?

Re:Punchcards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38538260)

Hey, my wife reads that magazine..

Re:Punchcards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38545724)

Didn't he invent Warp drives?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warp_%28weaving%29

Static Electricity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38538312)

You hand me a punchcard {zap} and my sleeve reboots?

Coatings? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536144)

If the conductive elements are coatings on the threads, then are they insulated properly? Do you have to put on another layer of insulation? I should imagine that might hurt flexibility.

Overclocking Risk? (5, Funny)

El Torico (732160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536152)

If I overclock a CPU made from this would it burst into flame?

Re:Overclocking Risk? (3, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536196)

This one's kind of obvious—yes, of course it would. Oily, greasy cotton that's been wrapped around your sweaty butt all day autoignites at a mere 120 degrees Celsius.

Re:Overclocking Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536388)

Pump up your yams,
Pump them up,
Pump them-up
Yo, pump them.

Re:Overclocking Risk? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537510)

This is a lazy man's way of cleaning your clothes. Dunk the shirt in water, overclock until the shirt drys out. Presto - clean shirt.

"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (1)

Turnerj (2478588) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536160)

The only logical thing I could think of for that would be one of those "@Home" projects but on a different crowd sourcing scale though even then battery life would suck.

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (3, Funny)

walkerp1 (523460) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536186)

The only logical thing I could think of for that would be one of those "@Home" projects but on a different crowd sourcing scale though even then battery life would suck.

Since you're fully integrated into the Matrix, I think battery life represents an entirely different problem.

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (1)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537920)

Since you're fully integrated into the Matrix, I think battery life represents an entirely different problem,

Simple solution -- beer. Visiting the pub could become a mandatory activity for lunch everyday to recharge. And don't forget dessert!

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (2)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#38538732)

And think of the possibilities! No more working out just to get that desert out of your system. Just calculate pi and that pie is gone.

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (1)

X3J11 (791922) | more than 2 years ago | (#38539716)

And think of the possibilities! No more working out just to get that desert out of your system. Just calculate pi and that pie is gone.

Or... just stop eating dirt. Most of us managed that by age 5 or so. Though I do sometimes miss a good old mud pie.

s/desert/dessert/

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536214)

Well, the wearable computer has long been hailed as a successor to the PDA-style mobile personal computer. Generally this is followed by brain implants, becoming one with the Network, and finally being made out of swarms of nanobots. The futurists would eat up the chance to have holographic augmented reality projected on sunglasses (or one's shirtsleeves) without having to lug around a pocket-filling box.

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537024)

"without having to lug around a pocket-filling box."

Stop buying old tech. my dual core wearable computer does not fill a pocket and could easily be worn on a belt. plus my latest version runs 2 days on a single charge.
and glasses? Bah.

Put the information display on your arm.... http://www.getinpulse.com/ [getinpulse.com] if you want to be less visible, otherwise you can easily strap the whole computer and display on your arm if you want to look more tech oriented.

Live it now, the tech already exists.

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#38538768)

I'm somehow wary of stuff that starts with a lowercase i and has a capital letter inside the name.

Not 'cause it may be bad, but because the company will invariably get sued, probably into bankruptcy. Don't tell me Apple forgot to patent THAT!

Re:"You could make a fairly powerful computer" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536258)

Eli Whitney made flesh eating robots with them. True story.

Fault tolerant circuits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536188)

Because I don't know you, but after three months my clothes for sure are not the same they were when I bought them.

Re:Fault tolerant circuits? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536222)

They'd probably make them removable so you didn't have to wash them if that were a problem (and it does seem likely.) Perhaps an insert that sits between two layers of cloth to protect it from both the body and the environment.

Re:Fault tolerant circuits? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#38538778)

You might have to uninstall that pizza and egg some time.

But "debugging" now gets a really nasty undertone...

A cotton transistor takes the prize (4, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536192)

Over the years I've spoken with many electrical engineers and software engineers, and heard much technical lore, but a cotton transistor? That is a yarn worthy of a prize.

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (5, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536218)

Now just wait a cotton-picking minute. Anything that yields a crop of puns this good must surely be fabricated.

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (4, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536438)

Anything that yields a crop of puns this good must surely be fabricated.

I'm not sure that I fully take your meaning. Are you suggesting that they need to spin up manufacturing? Or are you trying to gin up a controversy because you think this yarn about cotton transistors is made up out of whole cloth? If it really works, there could be enormous potential in high-speed communications and backplanes, interfacing to fibre, and switching fabrics, for example. This could be an interesting investment opportunity. If it takes off, they'll need some good marketing, and a spokesman. I think that guy from the Matrix would be perfect! What was his name..... Agent Smith.... Hugo something?

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537302)

Epic Win!

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38545966)

Suddenly "Oh, what a tangled Web we weave...." begins to make sense. Or: "The network trouble turned out to be shorts in the server...."

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536584)

It could bring the USA back to the forefront of semiconductor technology, with all those niggers to pick the cottom.

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38538374)

>> Now just wait a cotton-picking minute...

Alright, alright, don't get your panties in a divide by zero error.

Re:A cotton transistor takes the prize (1)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537772)

But this story was not spun from thin air. It speaks of the gift of circuitry delivered by gold, nanoscale, and polymyrrh.

Aunt Tillie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536230)

... Aunt Tillie knits up a high-performance supercomputer...

Will this be the beginning of the end... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536232)

...of wet T-shirt contests?

Re:Will this be the beginning of the end... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536596)

Nope, but expect the wet t-shirt to be worn by overclockers instead of cute chicks.

No powerful computers (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536242)

ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"

While that's a cute idea... a lot of transistors = a lot of heat.

Cotton fibers are not particularly known for their ability to tolerate high heat, and neither is human skin.

Re:No powerful computers (1)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536330)

Spreading the number out over a large area dissipates the heat quite well.

Re:No powerful computers (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537748)

Spreading the number out over a large area dissipates the heat quite well.

Unless you have found a way to make electric current exceed the speed of light; a loss of density is also a drop in the amount of computing power and efficiency that can possibly be achieved.

Re:No powerful computers (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537400)

ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"

While that's a cute idea... a lot of transistors = a lot of heat.

Cotton fibers are not particularly known for their ability to tolerate high heat, and neither is human skin.

This is obviously meant for water cooling. A tasteful way of doing this would be a modified umbrella that supplied the spray.

Forget military uses; this would stand out in infrared like a weenie roast.

Huh? (1)

Gazoogleheimer (1466831) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536266)

The cotton isn't a [semi]conductor, the coatings are. Still novel, though.

Re:Huh? (1)

emilper (826945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536510)

yes, extremely novel, they impurified the semiconductor with cellulose ... or is it "they reinforced the semiconductor with cellulose fibers" ... equally novel

Oh no, my motherboard is caught in the door. (2)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536282)

What happens if you catch your sleeve on a sharp corner, the shirt starts unravelling and your processor is strung across the room? I guess you go to your IT Tailor specialist.

Not that many connections (4, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536346)

From the summary: "think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!""

There aren't that many connections. Assume a 200 thread count fabric, since it's both typical and makes the math easy. That thread count means in each square inch of fabric, you have 100 vertical threads and 100 horizontal, for a total of 10k crossings. To replicate just the old 100 MHz Pentium 1 processor (hardly what anyone would call a powerful computer), you'd need over two square feet of this stuff. If you want something decent, like what you might get in a modern smartphone, you'll need anywhere from ten to a hundred times that much. And remember that it won't run anywhere near the speeds of the IC, and that we haven't even allowed space for all the other essential bits of a computer (e.g. memory). If you want a powerful computer in your shirt, you're much better off sewing something tiny into the hem. Even then, the weight of the battery will be obnoxious.

Still very cool technology, but I see it being used for simpler distributed systems (like the mentioned sensors) rather than a fabric computer.

Re:Not that many connections (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536466)

From the summary: "think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!""

There aren't that many connections. Assume a 200 thread count fabric, since it's both typical and makes the math easy. That thread count means in each square inch of fabric, you have 100 vertical threads and 100 horizontal, for a total of 10k crossings. ...

Dumb-ass. Emphasis added to the word "every". Think Beowulf cluster with billions and billions of people wearing em.

Re:Not that many connections (1)

jupiter126 (2471462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536618)

It depends of the thuckness of your cotton! If you manage to get 35nm cotton threads, you would surely need more than 200 connections and might get a decent woolen computer!

Re:Not that many connections (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536868)

It depends of the thuckness of your cotton!
If you manage to get 35nm cotton threads, you would surely need more than 200 connections and might get a decent woolen computer!

No, it would still be cotton.

Re:Not that many connections (1)

MrSeb (471333) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536816)

There are a lot of square inches of cotton in a t-shirt, you know :) At least 100 square inches! Probably nearer a thousand or more.

Re:Not that many connections (2)

lorinc (2470890) | more than 2 years ago | (#38536898)

Plus, I'm doubtful about the robustness of these cotton crossings. It take a single broken thread to break the entire system, which is quiet common with clothes.

Re:Not that many connections (1)

MattskEE (925706) | more than 2 years ago | (#38540540)

I wrote up a little section on why wearable organic transistors are not well suited for any real digital computation to add on to your post (longer physical propagation delays, extremely slow FETs, high resistance interconnect, uneven/changing surrounding dielectric environment), but then I read the paper and realized that it's just the poor journalism at ExtremeTech that was talking up that angle. The actual researchers don't mention high power digital circuits like ExtremeTech, in fact the only application I saw that the paper directly mentioned was chemical and biological sensors.

The actual computing horsepower for wearable computers with any real complexity will obviously need to be provided by conventional CMOS chips for years to come. They are tiny and can be integrated in clothing with little impact and easily ruggedized for washing machines, they use far less battery power, they are reliable, and can actually provide real computing power. The place for integrated organic semiconductors in wearable computing is for things like displays and sensors which don't need high speed transistors but need large areas, flexibility, or interesting chemical properties. There is undoubtedly going be a place for very simple circuits directly implemented in organic textile based transistors, but it's not going to power a GPS receiver or anything fancy like that.

Re:Not that many connections (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38546520)

An idea: if this was easy to reproduce, everybody could make their own IC at home.

Underestimated.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536384)

If you think your shirt could have enough interconnections to match modern semiconductor chips, you are sorely mistaken.

For a cotton shirt connections to operate properly, you need to ensure insulation between conductors. Since you're twisting around in your shirt, the insulation bands must be quite thick to allow the textile to stretch, compress and twist. Individual fibers can't be relied on, since multiple neighboring fibers can connect to them.

On the other hand, semiconductors are cased in box and are constructed at scale of tens of nanometers (at the moment). The boxing protects them from twisting effects, so neighboring tens-of-nanometers lines are not in risk of being arbitrarily reconnected.

Sure you could box cotton too, but then you'd just have a poorly performing weird semiconductor chip, not a shirt anymore.

The Last Mimzy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536410)

Time traveling intel bunnies anyone?

Well, that's a first (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536420)

First hardware that's actually well, soft-wear!

The HACK behind your BACK! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38536680)

THIS is bad ass:

Owned Over Amateur Radio (Remote kernel exploitation) [PDF]
http://vulnfactory.org/research/defcon-remote.pdf [vulnfactory.org]

rose-exploit â" Remote kernel exploit for ROSE amateur radio [code]
https://github.com/djrbliss/rose-exploit [github.com]

Using Part 15 Wireless Ethernet Devices For Amateur Radio (AX.25 over Ethernet) [ftp/PDF]
ftp://ftp.tapr.org/software_lib/ether/Ham_Ethernet_GBPPR.pdf [tapr.org]

Google: ax.25 over ethernet

THIS is the REAL global conspiracy!

Re:The HACK behind your BACK! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537300)

What's with "THIS is the REAL global conspiracy!" tagged on at the end? It doesn't fit with the rest at all. (Posted AC since it's OT.)

What powers it? (1)

sohmc (595388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537160)

I didn't read the abstract but it seems like the biggest hurdle with any portable technology is power, more specifically battery life.

I predicted some 5-10 years ago that battery technology is due for a major advance, but I haven't seen it materialize. Sure, there have been a bunch of studies and experiments, but nothing impressive at the consumer level.

Seed just put a burn hole in my GPU (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537236)

Great thinking since clothing NEVER is subjected to abuse...

Why provide the abstract, MrSeb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537306)

Sure they're selling it for 99 but there are plenty of more interesting abstracts available on arxiv which range from Nobel Prize-winning papers to fodder for the igNobel.

Has someone liberated this pdf and placed it on a filesharing service or with the departure of Taco Slashdot's trying to be all legit?

Wash and what! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537310)

How woul this be able to be cleaned? Not sure how this would work.

Duribilty (1)

ShAkE_a82 (790061) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537364)

Flexible it may be but i think it will still need some sort of insulation on top to avoid short circuits and runs and pulled threads. I cannot imagine it being integrated into a fabric right on top in the open with lasting functionality

Great, vegetable computing (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38537870)

now, if it stops working you can either eat it... or in the case of cotton, use it to wipe out the mess :)

fr0st Pist (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38537968)

these rules will as little overhead ME! It's official every chance I got problem; a few and sling or table look at the = 1400 NetBSD irc network. The Can no longer be for a moment and Myself. This isn't happenl. 'At least If you have is perhaps GNNA and support plainly states that posts on Usenet are purposes *BSD is

TSA (2)

kimvette (919543) | more than 2 years ago | (#38538012)

In other news, TSA has now announced that in addition to not allowing the wearing of jewelry/accessories which have details vaguely resemble miniscule guns a few mm in length and not allowing the oh-so-dangerous hydrogen hydroxide aboard aircraft, they will also be banning cotton clothing due to recent chatter about the ability to weave dangerous devices into cotton fabric. Full story at 11.

Re:TSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38544956)

problem: this is not funny. dont give them any ideas.

Multi-Threading (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38539184)

What, no jokes about multi-threading?

Re:Multi-Threading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38544584)

What, no jokes about multi-threading?

There was a hyper-threading one earlier.

The Devil is in the Details (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 2 years ago | (#38539304)

Ahem, what about the not so insignificant details such as transistor speed, performance, scalability, yield, and reliability?

To get transistors to the level they're at, they've had to be very carefully shrunk and the silicon carefully controlled for resistance and impurity level, something that these deposited semiconductors will be many, many orders of magnitude worse in each and every parameter.

There's not a whole lot of point making transistors that are 1,000 times larger, 1,000,000 more power-hungry, have 100,000 times lower yield, 10,000 times slower, and have 10,000 times shorter life, (as a rough estimate).

Technology export permits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38539872)

So now we're going to all need technology export permits to send extra large sweaters overseas.

laundry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38540038)

But will any of it work after you put it through the laundry, with detergent, and maybe bleach, and then the dryer?

                mark

Yeah, nice but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38542410)

Does it work after you've washed and dried it 10 times in a row? No? Whoop.

interesting and informative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38545908)

wearable technology (think wristwatch) is the obvious goal.

Shirty computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38545930)

And it is powered by those button batteries - CLEVER!!

New hotizons in low-power computing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38546052)

Kids would love this; if the battery runs down, you can recharge by scuffing your feet on the carpet.

The fabric of time in nano seconds or mil seconds? (1)

warpuck (825909) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565866)

To use the cloth computer..... Wouldn't you have to catch the shuttle cock 1st? Then you have learn to curve the bullets path also?
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