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The First High-Yield, Sub-Penny Plastic Processor

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Some interesting stuff:

Screenshot 2022-06-18 121304.png


For decades, hopeful techies have been promising a world where absolutely every object you encounter—bandages, bottles, bananas—will have some kind of smarts thanks to supercheap programmable plastic processors. If you’ve been wondering why that hasn’t happened yet, it’s that nobody has built working processors that can be made in the billions for less than a penny each.

It hasn’t been for want of trying; in 2021 Arm reproduced its simplest 32-bit microcontroller, the M0, in plastic, but even this couldn’t hope to meet the mark. The problem, according to engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at British flexible-electronics manufacture PragmatIC Semiconductor, is that even the simplest industry-standard microcontrollers are too complex to make on plastic in bulk.

In research to be presented at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture later this month, the transatlantic team presents a simple yet fully functional plastic processor that could be made at sub-penny prices. The Illinois team designed 4-bit and 8-bit processors specifically to minimize size and maximize the percentage of working integrated circuits produced. Eighty-one percent of the 4-bit version worked, and that’s a good enough yield, says team leader Rakesh Kumar, to breach the one-penny barrier.

“Flexible electronics has been niche for decades,” says Kumar. He adds that this yield study shows “that they may be ready for the mainstream.”

The processors his team built were made using the flexible thin-film semiconductor indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), which can be built on plastic and continues to work even when bent around a radius of millimeters. But while a reliable manufacturing process is a prerequisite, it was the design that made the difference.


Why Not Silicon?

You might be wondering why silicon processors can’t do the job of supercheap flexible computing. Kumar’s analysis suggest it won’t work. Compared to plastic, silicon is expensive and inflexible, but if you make the chip small enough, the plastic can just bend around it. However, silicon fails at the task for two reasons: One is that although the area of circuitry could be made supersmall, you still need to leave a comparatively large amount of space around the edges so that the chip can be cut out of the wafer. In the case of a microcontroller as simple as the Flexicore, there would be more space around the edge than there is area containing circuitry. What’s more, you’ll need still more room to fit enough I/O pads so data and power can get to the chip. Suddenly, you’ve got a large area of costly blank silicon, pushing up expenses past the critical US $0.01 mark.

Over the next few days, the International Symposium on Computer Architecture will take place in New York. During this fair, the researchers will present Flexicore, which is expected to reveal more details.


Read more: https://spectrum.ieee.org/plastic-microprocessor
 
Last edited:

eidairaman1

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My only concern is heat output, Silicon is a really good insulator

And when it comes to U.S. currency there is no unit smaller than the Penny
 
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My only concern is heat output, Silicon is a really good insulator
They are probably good enough for things like these, anyway, even if this is only feasible for low power processors like microcontrollers it would be a big win, it would relieve a lot of manufacturing pressure.
 
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My only concern is heat output, Silicon is a really good insulator

And when it comes to U.S. currency there is no unit smaller than the Penny

Stuff can still cost less than a penny. You just buy/sell it in the tens of thousands.

Also, maybe I don't want microchips on my bananas...
 
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My only concern is heat output, Silicon is a really good insulator

And when it comes to U.S. currency there is no unit smaller than the Penny
It has no big heat output since it’s very weak and small
 
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It won't work. The greenies banned our plastic straws so inevitably they'll ban our plastic penny processors.
 
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Also, maybe I don't want microchips on my bananas...
Your supposed to take the sticker off. That's most likely where this'll be applied if at all.

It won't work. The greenies banned our plastic straws so inevitably they'll ban our plastic penny processors.
You really don't understand why plastic straws were banned if you think these two things are related.
 
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You really don't understand why plastic straws were banned if you think these two things are related.

I was joking but ok. Apparently I've gotta turn up the sarcasm even more.

Sarcastic George Costanza GIF
 
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I was joking but ok. Apparently I've gotta turn up the sarcasm even more.

Sarcastic George Costanza GIF
Fair. It's the internet sarcasm does not always transmit lol.
 
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