05 Nov 2018
World innovation news
Information and Communications Technologies
Expanding the IoT Ecosystem with Flexible Electronics
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The expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming both the web space and the interconnected hardware ecosystem environment. The functional value of an object increases when connected to the Internet because it can participate in generating information and ensuring multiple uses. Also, it helps provide useful data. Although the applications of objects equipped with sensors seem endless, economic constraints can hinder the development of some projects.
A team of researchers from Purdue University (Indiana, USA) and the University of Virginia (Virginia, USA) developed a solution that could turn any object into a smart one, just by sticking a kind of tape on its surface!
Design and Applications
Flexible electronics allowed the team to imagine and create a sticker that works like a sensor. Not only could this technology extend the IoT ecosystem, but it could also make it more flexible.
The following video shows the ease of the concept. After manufacturing a flexible electronic circuit, the desired shape is cut out and stuck on the surface of an object to make it smart. A planter equipped with this technology can, for example, communicate information on its environment and allow the user to know and follow the plant’s growth in real time. The sticker could also optimize wireless communication between objects.
Flexible electronic circuits are certainly a common technology. However, expanding its use is inhibited by its cost. The sticker designed by the team solves this problem by proposing a manufacturing technique that reduces production costs by simplifying the manufacturing steps.
Most electronic circuits are made separately and on their own rigid silicon wafer. The wafer is resistant to the high temperatures and chemical etching used to peel away the electronic film. This process is expensive because it requires a new wafer for each circuit. The team invented a technique to peel the flexible circuit from the substrate without damaging it, making it possible to produce many thin films of electronic circuits from a single wafer. The new peeling process is done at room temperature and without the use of harmful chemicals.
A humid environment is created, causing blistering between the layers, which facilitates the release of the nanocircuit films. This operation is possible using a ductile metal layer like nickel. This layer is inserted between the electronic film and the silicon wafer to facilitate peeling under water. These thin electronic components can then be cut out and glued on any surface, giving them electronic characteristics. The researchers tested proper operation of the film by turning an LED screen on and off.
The self-adhesive electronic circuit is protected by a non-provisional US patent.
The study, co-written by Dae Seung Wie, Yue Zhang, Kim Min Min Kim, Bongjoong Kim, Sangwook Park, Kim Young-Joon Kim, Pedro P. Irazoqui, Xiaolin Zheng, Baoxing Xu and Chi Hwan Lee, entitled “Wafer-Recyclable, environment-friendly transfer printing for wide-scale thin-film nanoelectronics,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 31, 2018, and received support from the Purdue Research Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Virginia.