If you believe microchips are now present everywhere from washing machines to lampposts, just wait until the circuits can be printed on plastic, paper, and fabric for the price of cents. That’s what chip designer Arm is promising, and the company unveiled a new prototype this week a plastic-based microchip called PlasticARM.
This isn’t the first flexible chip we’ve seen, but it’s the most complex. PlasticARM includes a 32-bit Cortex-M0 processor (the cheapest and simplest processor core in the Arm’s Cortex-M family) as well as 456 bytes of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM. It consists of more than 18,000 logic ports, which Arm says is at least 12 times more than the previous plastic-based chip.
The circuit was designed in collaboration with the flexible electronics manufacturer PragmatIC, and as the company’s designers explain a publication published Nature, it does not yet have the same functionality as silicon – based models. For example, it will only be able to run three test programs connected to its circuits during manufacturing, although Arm researchers say they are working on future versions that will allow new code to be installed.
PlasticARM and other similar chips make the use of their flexible components particularly special; in this case, metal oxide thin film transistors or TFTs. These can be printed on bendable and flexible surfaces without disintegration, unlike processors based on brittle silicon substrates. This allows the processors to be advantageously printed on plastic and paper.
As Armin researchers explain in their paper, this would allow the use of microchips for all kinds of uses that would seem pointless today. For example, you may have a chip printed on each milk bottle that detects contamination and replaces the use of the date of sale. Arm says this will create a new “all over the Internet,” and the chips will be integrated into “more than a trillion inanimate objects over the next decade.”
However, plastic-based chips have significant drawbacks and are certainly not a substitute for silicon processors in the short term. They are simply too inefficient in terms of energy consumption, density and performance. PlasticARM, for example, consumes 21 milliwatts of power, but 99 percent of it is wasted mostly, and only 1 percent is intercepted for computing. The chip is also relatively large, covering an area of 59.2 square meters. As stated AnandTech, which is about 1,500 times the size of a silicon-based Cortex M0 processor.
James Myers as Arm Research Engineer said New researcher: “It’s not fast, it’s not energy efficient, but if I put it in a salad to track shelf life, it’s an idea.”