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Super-Flexible Circuits Could Boost Smartphones, Bionic Limbs

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the bend-like-the-reed dept.

Hardware 16

Nerval's Lobster writes "The microelectronic sensors and mechanical systems built into smartphone cameras and other tiny electronic devices may soon evolve into microscopic, custom-printed versions designed as bionic body parts rather than smartphone components. Engineering researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a micro-printing process that can build microscopic microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) onto a flexible, non-toxic organic polymer designed for implantation in the human body. Current-generation MEMS are typically found in the accelerometers in smartphones, or the tiny actuator motors that focus cell-phone camera lenses. Most are made from substrates based on silicon, and built using techniques common to semiconductor fabrication. The new process, as described in the journal Microelectronic Engineering , relies on an organic polymer that is hundreds of times more flexible than conventional materials used for similar purposes. That flexibility not only makes the units easier to fit into the oddly shaped parts of a human body, it allows them to be made more sensitive to motion and energy-efficient. That alone would give a boost to the miniaturization of electronics, but the stretch and flex of the new materials could also serve as more comfortable and efficient replacements for current prosthetics that sense stimuli from an amputee's nervous system to power a prosthetic arm, for example, or operate a synthetic bladder."

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16 comments

This sounds bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44505145)

Imagine the military applications of $6 million rodents dropped behind enemy lines.

Re:This sounds bad (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#44512643)

By the time they were looking at mice, even the network execs realized that the writers were completely out of ideas and the whole Bionic series of shows needed to come to a close.

um no (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#44505211)

Smartphones? I don't think so. Limbs, definitely because that would allow great levels of fine detailed control but really, phones? Do they not hire market research companies or do they just not give a damn? I don't care if it's clear or flexible or has a resolution that they pretend is the same as my retina or is 3D or has a projector. Make is indestructible and waterproof but not a slow, clunky, heavy piece of crap. One giant slate of synthetic sapphire with an OLED, is that to much to ask?

Stupid them (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 9 months ago | (#44505231)

I'm mean, what world are they living?

microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) onto a flexible, non-toxic organic polymer designed for implantation in the human body.
[...]
That flexibility not only makes the units easier to fit into the oddly shaped parts of a human body,

Everybody knows that bigger is better [wikipedia.org] .

(No, the above link is not sexist. It just happens that big (bang) theorists assure us that "Men love bluetooth" and "Everything with bluetooth is better". And a lot of them use Linux [xkcd.com] ).

Prosthetic inner ear. (3, Informative)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 9 months ago | (#44505291)

A close relative of mine has MéniÃre's disease and resulting debilitating vertigo.

This is a horrible condition where failure of a pressure relief valve in the inner ear results in the progressive destruction of the inner ear's membranes, including those in the"rate gyros" and "linear accelerometers". This repeatedly changes the errors in the ear's balance signals, resulting in repeated and extreme triggering of a reflex apparently intended to eject neurotoxic poisons: Extreme "seasickness", fall down, projectile vomiting and diarrhea, can't even crawl, let alone stand, for several hours. After a couple days the new error is "mapped out" - then another tear in a membrane creates a new error, and repeat.

Meanwhile the loss of the balance signals means additional dependence on vision - and thus bone-breaking falls and additional nausea attacks and headaches (it's related to migraine) from flickering lights and confusing background images. (Even flickers far faster than the fusion rate causes attacks, apparently by delaying and distorting visual location cues during motion.)

It is so debilitating that a substantial fraction of the victims commit suicide.

Biocompatible MEMS systems could be used to create an implantable prosthetic replacement for the balance sensors. (We already know the signal can be coupled to the nerves in question magnetically.) This could result in restoration of the balance function and thus an effective treatment.

Re:Prosthetic inner ear. (2)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 9 months ago | (#44505301)

A close relative of mine has MÃf©niÃfre's disease and resulting debilitating vertigo.

Spell that "Meniere's". (Slashdot didn't render the cut-and-paste from Wikipedia, where the original spelling has two different diacriticals above the two "e"s.)

Re:Prosthetic inner ear. (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 9 months ago | (#44507299)

It is so debilitating that a substantial fraction of the victims commit suicide.

I didn't know that. I occasionally get bouts of labyrinthitis, but the first was by far the worst, and if I'd had to suffer like that for the rest of my life... The room wouldn't stop spinning and I vomitted six times on the first day, not knowing that actually all I had to do was lie on my other side and the symptoms would have abated, though I would still have been stuck in bed. Since then it has come and gone with decreasing frequency (and I no longer risk fairground rides) though I sometimes wonder if my brain has reduced its reliance on balance signals from the ears - I seem to find it much harder to keep my balance in the dark nowadays even if I'm not currently suffering an episode, but the smallest of visual cues seems to be enough to keep me on my feet, once I focus on it.

Biocompatible MEMS systems could be used to create an implantable prosthetic replacement for the balance sensors. (We already know the signal can be coupled to the nerves in question magnetically.) This could result in restoration of the balance function and thus an effective treatment.

Can the existing system be excised? No balance would seem to be the lesser of two evils, and I presume the brain has multiple other proprioceptive and visual cues it can fall back to.

Re:Prosthetic inner ear. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 8 months ago | (#44528203)

As I understand it (I'm NOT a doctor):

There are several other inner ear problems that produce vertigo.
What you've described sounds to me like one of the more transient ones. (Meniere's is the major progressive one.)

Even with Meniere's they're very reluctant to disable the inner ear - which also destroys the hearing. (In fact they're reluctant even to install the artificial pressure-relief valve until the hearing in the affected ear has been destroyed - because the surgery will usually damage or destroy it as a side-effect.)

As I understand balance you have three systems:
  - Inner ear "rate gyros and accellerometers" - which also sense gravity.
  - Visual modeling of your location/motion/environment.
  - Proprioception - muscle/tendon tension, joint position, ...
You need any two of the three to walk upright. Disasgeement between the set of three triggers vertigo / motion sickness / car/sea/airsickness, etc. (The system generally learns that disagreement is normal in a vehicle, which is why vertigo-producing diseases usually don't trigger during driving.)

A good authoritative source on this is the California Ear Institute in East Palo Alto.

Deepness in the sky (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 9 months ago | (#44505603)

This is going toward the distributed microscopic actuators described in Vernor Vinge's Deepness in the sky. I cannot wait until someone hack that (which happens in the book when Pham Nuwen uses a forgotten backdoor to take control of all of them).

Interface to the human body. (1)

SlashDev (627697) | about 9 months ago | (#44505679)

I don't like anything implanted in my body unless I am able to take it out at will, so maybe we need a basic interface into the human body that way we can choose what to attach to it.

Re:Interface to the human body. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44507275)

Of course what would be the point of your concern unless the interface could also be removed at will, and if it can be why would you need the interface to be apart from the devices?

Re:Interface to the human body. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44513419)

You'll change your mind when you get cataracts or your knees fail. Are you extremely nearsighted or farsighted? There's an implant now that will give you 20/20 vision and you don't even need reading glasses at age sixty with it.

I detect a plot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44506571)

All this tech coming out of Israel, so we all become dependent on them..

Fuck them.. We need to boycott all apartheid regimes...

Thats nice and all but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44508387)

..does it have an SD card slot?

I have a 1st gen nexus 7, and i can tell you that i've never wished it had higher resolution or more processing power, but i -have- wished it had an SD card slot.

Flash would be nice too.

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