Say Hello to Electronics Printed on Plastic

January 25, 2012, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

All you need for computing is as little as a strip of plastic these days, literally. ThinFilm Electronics has come up with plans to create an electronics device with basic computing components printed on a strip of plastic.

The smart tag, about 3 inches wide and an inch and a half high, features ThinFilm’s memory with printable transistors from research company PARC, a battery, and display. The printable memory device stores the digital information by changing the orientation of polymer chains when a voltage is applied.

Electronics are printed in South Korea with a multilayered roll-to-roll process. For the first time, you have a smart device that is fully printed, which means you don’t have the upfront cost that you have with traditional electronics, said CEO Davor Sutija.

This allows for 30 cents a tag. So what is the device going to do?

Well, initially, it will monitor temperature of perishable goods. PST Sensors and ThinFilm plan to make a prototype of a disposable temperature sensor to monitor foods or medicine, such as vaccines.

Basically, the smart tag will display the temperature record of the food or vaccine. This method will be less expensive and more accurate than placing alarm sensors in shipping containers, ThinFilm said.

ThinFilm partnered with PARC last year to combine its ferroelectric memory with PARC’s printed transistors. Adding computing logic allows the device to read, write, and process and store data.

Though the computing and storage are very limited on this sort of device, it is low power and, low cost. Data can be stored many times and is not lost with loss of power.

The company has deals to supply smart tags that add interactivity to toys and games. It has also had discussions with auto companies to use tags to gather data on vehicle brakes and notify drivers when they need service.

According to Sutija, the company plans to add a wireless networking module to its smart tag in the next couple of years, that will allow everyday objects to communicate with the near-field communications in cell phones. By partnering with companies that have made a battery, display, and sensor for its memory system, ThinFilm has ensured that these smart tags can be used for many different applications, said CEO Davor Sutija.

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