Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Runnin' On Empty, So Tech!

Running low on go tonight, so a little tech news.  This is a development that is probably going to be a Big Thing, if the cost/benefit curve works.  It will bring microprocessors and controllers into places they haven't been, yet. 

American Semiconductor announced the first physically flexible microcontroller recently.  In the description it sounds like a typical low end processor:  "The FleX-MCU is an 8-bit RISC microcontroller with 8KB embedded RAM operating at up to 20MHz with a 1.2V core and 2.5V I/O. It includes multiple serial interface peripherals, including UART, I2C, and SPI." (for the techies that understand what that means).  The difference is the final form is flexible. 
In the background is conventional silicon wafer; although at 6 or 8" diameter it's small by today's standards.  Today's top of the line microprocessors come off wafers the diameter of large dinner plate.  Wafers have the look and feel of a gray mirror, with extremely fine, small squares on one surface.  In the gloved fingers in the foreground is the proprietary FleX system they've developed.  This is a polymer with  microcontroller chips built on it.  There are silicon layers and metal layers, all so thin the resulting processors can be wrapped around a standard number 2 pencil. 

Imagine a book reader that instead of being a rigid tablet, could be rolled up into something easier to put in a pocket.  Perhaps tablets that can be folded like a wallet.  Processors will end up in flexible things like clothing, perhaps for health monitoring, starting with military uniforms and working down the cost/benefit curve through hospitals to individuals.  And I'm sure tons of things I can't even envision.  Ubiquitous computing is ubiquitous.


  1. Ubiquitous bugging possibilities, too, via wireless link!


  2. My first thought is that everything starts small. Though it's only got 20 MHz under the hood now, I'm sure they'll give it some oomph soon.

    My second thought was the Globals from Earth Final Conflict.

    1. Most likely. But an amazing amount of control systems are pretty simple, slow processors.