Scientists have developed penny plastic FlexiCore chips they promise to
Hardware

Scientists have developed penny-plastic FlexiCore chips – they promise to revolutionize the Internet of Things

The number of IoT devices around the world is increasing by billions every year. It seems that this is a huge number, but in fact the potential of this segment is much greater, and rather expensive silicon chips are holding it back. The solution could be the introduction of plastic chips, which are many times cheaper.

University of Illinois researchers have developed a new plastic-based FlexiCore processor design from the ground up. Since the scrap rate increases with the number of logic elements, the decision was made to implement 4- and 8-bit architectures instead of the more advanced 16- and 32-bit architectures. Such simple computing devices are completely sufficient for many tasks in the area of ​​the Internet of Things.

The FlexiCore also features an optimized onboard memory and instruction set to minimize transistor count and reduce complexity. The researchers have also designed the logic elements in such a way that they get by with a minimum of transistors. After all, the processor was designed to execute an instruction in one clock cycle.

For the production of plastic microcircuits, the technology of depositing transistors based on indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) on a thin flexible film was used. The IZGO technology is used in the production of displays and is already well tested and has proven itself. Foils with transistors can be bent into curves with a radius of millimeters without side effects.

The created pattern of the 4-bit FlexiCore chip has an area of ​​5.6 mm2 and contains 2104 semiconductor elements, similar to the classic Intel 4004 processor. At the same time, the yield of suitable products was over 80%, and the researchers calculated that a FlexiCore chip would cost less than a penny to manufacture. However, more complex 8-bit samples came out with a high percentage of errors and therefore could not overcome the one-cent-a-piece barrier.

Of course, this is only research work so far and there is still a lot to do before FlexiCore solutions or similar solutions come to the market. However, researchers have tried to optimize their solutions for different processes and target workloads with some success. There are also questions about how flexing affects performance and how durable the plastic chips are.

However, with such a really cheap plastic processor and the arrival of flexible electronics into the mainstream, we could soon see the dawn of truly ubiquitous electronics. Such chips can be placed on the packaging of almost any product or on a medical patch. The areas of application are unlimited.

About the author

Dylan Harris

Dylan Harris is fascinated by tests and reviews of computer hardware.

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