Imec, KU Leuven and PragmatIC Semiconductor present the fastest flexible 8-bit microprocessor for low power applications

Imec, KU Leuven and PragmatIC Semiconductor present the fastest 8-bit microprocessor in flexible metal oxide technology of 0.8 µm capable of executing complex assembly code in real time at the international conference on semiconductor circuits. drivers 2022.

LEUVEN, Belgium — February 22, 2022— This week at the International Conference on Semiconductor Circuits 2022 (ISSCC 2022), imec, a global research and innovation hub for nanoelectronics and digital technologies, KU Leuven, and PragmatIC Semiconductor , a world leader in flexible electronics, presents the fastest 8-bit microprocessor in flexible 0.8 µm metal oxide technology capable of executing complex assembly code in real time. The microprocessor was implemented with a unique digital design flow that enabled the creation of a new library of standard cells for metal oxide thin film technologies – relevant for designing a wide range of loT applications. Robust thin-film technology offered by PragmatIC Semiconductor, imec’s founding partner, was key to integrating the approximately 16,000 metal-oxide thin-film transistors onto a flexible 24.9mm2 die.

Flexible electronics based on thin film transistor technology is preferred over Si CMOS based electronics for applications requiring inexpensive, thin, flexible and/or conformable devices. The technology has already made inroads, for example, in health sensors and RFID tags, and as a driver for flat screens. The missing piece is a flexible microprocessor to perform more complex signal processing calculations, adding computational functionality to a wide range of IoT applications.

Imec has designed a flexible 8-bit microprocessor in 0.8 µm Indium-Gallium-Zinc Oxide (IGZO) transistor technology capable of performing such complex calculations. Kris Myny, Senior Scientist at imec: “Our flexible microprocessor has excellent characteristics for IoT applications, including high speed (maximum operating speed of 71.4 kHz), low power consumption (11.6 mW in operating at 10 kHz, 134.9 mW at maximum operating speed) and high transistor integration density (~16,000 transistors with 0.8 µm gate length in a 24.9 mm2 chip). Additionally, at ISSCC 2022, we will demonstrate the real-time correct operation of our circuit by executing the complex assembly code from the popular game Snake.

With the new microprocessor, imec has overcome major challenges in the design of unipolar systems. Kris Myny: “IGZO-based metal oxide thin film transistors are inherently n-type. This results in circuits with higher (static) power consumption compared to complementary technologies. To solve this problem, we created our own design flow from the open-source file of the MOS6502 microprocessor – one of the most influential microprocessors ever designed. We designed the number of cells and logic gates to achieve the most optimal design for our flexible6502 microprocessor in terms of area, power, and speed – using pseudo-CMOS as the logic family. This unique design flow allowed us to create a new standard cell library for metal oxide thin film technology that can be used to innovate applications based on metal oxide thin film technology. As such, this work nicely concludes my ERC Startup Fellowship which aimed to open new horizons in the field of thin film transistor technology.

To manufacture the flexible microprocessor, imec partnered with foundry partner PragmatIC, whose unique FlexIC Foundry® offers rapid prototyping and high-yield volume manufacturing of flexible integrated circuits. Brian Cobb, VP Product Development at PragmatIC: “Until recently, there was no mature and robust technology available to integrate such a large number of thin film transistors with sufficient yield. Our pioneering FlexLogIC® factory now enables rapid processing of these complex new designs at ultra-low cost, delivering integrated circuits on thin, flexible wafers. Our FlexIC Foundry service continues to be instrumental in enabling design teams like imec’s to expand the range of design and use cases for flexible electronics.

This research was carried out as part of the ERC FLICs Starting Grant under Grant Agreement No 716426 under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

About imec

Imec is a world-leading research and innovation center in the field of nanoelectronics and digital technologies. Imec relies on its state-of-the-art R&D infrastructure and its team of more than 5,000 top-level employees and researchers, for R&D in advanced semiconductors and system scaling, silicon photonics , artificial intelligence, beyond 5G communication and sensing technologies, and in application areas such as health and life sciences, mobility, industry 4.0, agri-food, cities smart, sustainable energy, education, … Imec brings together global industry leaders across the semiconductor value chain, Flanders-based and international technology, pharmaceutical, medical and ICT companies, start-ups , and academic and knowledge centers. Imec is headquartered in Leuven (Belgium) and has research sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States, as well as offices in China, India, Taiwan and Japan. In 2020, imec’s turnover (P&L) amounted to 680 million euros.

Further information about imec is available at

About PragmatIC Semiconductor

PragmatIC Semiconductor is a world leader in ultra-low-cost flexible electronics. The unique technology platform enables innovators to create new solutions to everyday problems that go beyond conventional electronics. Proprietary Flexible Integrated Circuits (FlexICs) are thinner than a human hair and extend proven applications such as RFID and NFC into mass-market use cases, enabling the potential for trillions of smart objects that can interact with consumers and their environments. PragmatIC is headquartered in Cambridge, UK, with manufacturing operations in the North East. Shareholders include Cambridge Innovation Capital, Arm, Avery Dennison, Amcor and a select group of individual investors with significant experience in the semiconductor industry.

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