Flexible 32-bit microprocessor could pave the way for fully flexible intelligent integrated systems

A team of researchers from ARM Inc. has developed a 32-bit microprocessor on a flexible basis that the company believes could pave the way for fully flexible intelligent integrated systems. The group of researchers describe how they used metal oxide thin film transistors with a type of plastic to create their chip and describe the ways they think it could be used.

Microprocessors power a wide range of products, but they all have in common their rigidity. Almost all of them are made from silicon wafers, which means they have to be hard and flat. This inability to fold, argue the researchers with this new effort, is what is preventing the development of products such as smart clothing, smart labels on food, packaging and even paper products. To meet this need, the team created what they described as PlasticARM, a 32-bit RISC-based microprocessor with a flexible foundation. In addition to its flexibility, the new technique allows a microprocessor to be printed on many types of materials, all at low cost.

To create their flexible microprocessor, the researchers teamed up with a group from PragmatIC Semiconductor to create a flexible version of the Cortex M0 + microprocessor, which was chosen for its simplicity and small size. To fabricate their chip (which includes ROM, RAM, and interconnects), the team used fabricated amorphous silicon (in the form of metal oxide thin-film transistors) on flexible polymers.

In the first iteration of their PlasticARM, the researchers placed the registers used by the CPU in a reserved portion of RAM, and only 128 bytes of RAM were used. The resulting microprocessor was foldable, but it was neither efficient nor fast. In addition, it had no programmable memory. But the researchers note that they are just getting started. They suggest that their work so far has shown that it is possible to make viable flexible microprocessors, which means that eventually it may be possible to print them on clothes and other portable devices at very low power. cost. They estimate that billions of objects in the coming decades will be endowed with processing power, including bullets that can tell you if the milk is acidic, shirts that can measure bodily fluids for your body to process. smartphone, and labels you can stick on your skin to alert others to your mood. The possibilities will only be limited by the imagination.

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