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Posts Tagged ‘wearable’

The Future Is Flexible and Printed

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Automotive electronics, the Internet of Things, wearable gadgets, and other emerging chip markets are also expected to provide growth for flexible electronics, which often share manufacturing processes and materials with semiconductors.

Such applications were the talk of this week’s 2016FLEX Conference & Exhibition in Monterey, Calif. Printed and hybrid electronics were also on offer in the technical presentations and the compact exhibition area on the mezzanine level of the Monterey Marriott, where the conference was held while the Monterey Conference Center across Del Monte Avenue undergoes a year-long reconstruction project.

The Monterey Marriott and the Monterey Conference Center. (Credit: Jeff Dorsch)

Autonomous vehicles, connected cars, and the IoT are driving demand and innovation in flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics, according to Harry Zervos, principal analyst and business development manager for North America at IDTechEx, the market research, business intelligence, consulting, and events firm.

These new forms provide the capability to “add electronics to more and more mundane things,” he noted.

IDTechEx estimates the printed, flexible, and organic electronics market was worth a total of $24.5 billion in 2015. Organic light-emitting diode displays accounted for the lion’s share, at $15.3 billion. While OLEDs typically are not printed electronics, they stand to lead to flexible displays in the future, according to IDTechEx.

Sensors, mostly glucose test strips, represented $6.6 billion in revenue last year, while conductive inks provided $2.3 billion during 2015.

The market research firm forecasts printed electronics will increase from $8.8 billion in 2015 to $14.9 billion in 2025. Products made on flexible substrates are projected to grow from $6.4 billion last year to $23.5 billion in the next decade.

Market researchers have predicted “billions of sensors” will be sold in the next few years, including sensors for smartphones, Zervos said.  Smartphones will be “becoming flexible, more robust, foldable,” he added.

He is looking ahead to a time of flexible sensors and perhaps flexible microelectromechanical system devices to enable those flexible phones.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics will provide “innovation in form factors, allowing designers to come up with new ideas on what devices could look like,” Zervos said in an interview. Such innovation will lead to “more excitement, higher profit margins,” he added.

This will depend on “an interoperable ecosystem” between the mature semiconductor industry and the nascent flexible electronics industry, Zervos said.

Molex was among the exhibitors at this week’s conference. The company was acquired in late 2013 for $7.2 billion by Koch Industries. Nearly a year ago, Molex acquired certain assets of Silogie, a supplier of flexible and printed electronics for consumer goods, industrial, lighting, medical, and military applications.

During the technical program on Wednesday afternoon, John Heitzinger — Molex’s general manager of printed electronics — described products the company has developed for the structural health monitoring of advanced ammunition, building monitoring systems, and physiological monitoring, the last on behalf of the U.S. Air Force. In working on functionalized carbon nanotubes for detecting and sensing lactate, Molex collaborated with American Semiconductor, Brewer Science, and Northeastern University, he said.

Neil Morrison of Applied Materials WEB Coating presented Wednesday morning on “’Packaging’ of Moisture Sensitive Materials Used in New Form Factor Display Products.” He is manager of research and development in Energy & Environmental Solutions for the Applied Materials unit, based in Alzenau, Germany.

Applied has a 40-year history is supplying chemical vapor deposition equipment for semiconductor manufacturing, he noted, and now offers plasma-enhanced CVD for displays and roll-to-roll CVD for advanced flexible electronics.

For quantum dots and wearables, “you need a barrier solution,” especially multilayer barrier stacks, Morrison said.

He recommended PECVD for manufacturing with silicon nitride, and critical roll-to-roll CVD requirements for high-performance barrier films.

For high-volume manufacturing of roll-to-roll barriers, “process monitoring and control is key,” Morrison said.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics are clearly becoming a big and growing market. How companies take advantage of this market opportunity may be critical to their future.

Comfortable Consumer EEG Headset Shown by Imec and Holst Centre

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

A new wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) headset that is comfortable while providing medical-grade data acquisition has been shown by the partnership of imec, the Holst Centre, and the Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) department of TU Delft. The 3D-printed low-volume product enables early research and self-monitoring of emotions and mood in daily life situations using a smartphone application. Consumer applications include games that monitor relaxation and/or concentration, and medical applications that help with sleep disorders and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Figure 1 shows the new headset with novel elastic electrode arrays in an elegant uni-body assembly to optimize both comfort and signal quality. The electronics package in the middle of the headset fits on the back of the user’s neck. Each electrode is a small array of elastic polymer fingers which allow for dry contact—without needing a conductive liquid or gel—to skin for long-term comfortable use.

Figure1: Comfortable EEG headset developed by imec and Holst Centre and TU Delft in 2015, providing medical-quality data tracing of emotions and mood in daily life situations using a smartphone application. (Source: imec)

“Leveraging imec’s strong background in EEG sensing, dry polymer and active electrodes, miniaturized and low-power data acquisition, and low-power wireless interfaces to smartphones, we were able to focus on the ergonomics of this project. In doing so, we have successfully realized this unique combination of comfort and effectiveness at the lowest possible cost to the future user,” stated Bernard Grundlehner, EEG system architect at imec.

In 2011, imec and Holst Centre created an 8-channel ultra-low-power analog readout application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that consumes only 200µW and features high common mode rejection ratio (CMRR) of 120dB and signal to noise ratio of 25dB on real EEG signals. This ASIC is tuned to high input impedance (1GΩ) for compatibility with the use of dry electrodes. That system—including ASIC, radio, and controller chips— could be integrated in a package of 25mmx35mmx5mm dimensions for easy of integration in headsets, helmets, or other accessories. That system consumes only 3.3mW for continuous recording and wireless transmission of 1 channel—9.2mW for 8 channels—allowing for 1.5 to 4 days of functionality when powered by a 100mAh Li-ion battery.

In 2009, imec and Holst Centre showed off a rough mobile EEG prototype to partners and journalists at the yearly imec Technology Forum. Figure 2 shows that the prototype was bulky and a bit awkward to wear, while the figure does not show that sintered silver/silver-chloride electrodes are very hard such that dry contact to the human scalp tends to be uncomfortable.

Figure2: Ed Korczynski tests an imec EEG headset rough prototype, using uncomfortable hard silver/silver-chloride electrodes, at the 2009 Imec Technology Forum. (Source: Ed Korczynski)

The 2015 model uses new flexible electrodes arrays which are inherently more comfortable than hard silver/silver-chloride electrodes. A team of six master students from IDE of TU Delft led the design optimization of the 3D unibody for the new headset using 3D printing for short-loop prototyping and testing of different shapes for stability and comfort. Iterative tests with users for multiple applications led to this design which is intended for long-term comfortable use by consumers outside of a controlled research environment.

The new EEG headset is manufactured in one piece using 3-D printing, after which the electronic components are placed, connected, and covered by a 3-D-printed rubber inlay. The EEG electrodes are situated at the front of the headset for optimal acquisition of signals related to emotion and mood variations. A mobile app can then tie the user’s emotional state to environmental information such as location, time, agenda, and social context to track possible unconscious effects.

—E.K.

Conference features the latest in flexible display technology

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

At Display Week 2015, bigger is better. Smaller is better. And flexible may be best of all, for the era of wearable electronics.

There are some huge screens on display, so to speak, throughout the conference’s exhibition floor, such as BOE Technology Group’s 110-inch 8K Ultra High Definition television or LG Display’s curved 77-inch 4K UHD TV. There are also very small displays, such as E Ink’s smallest electronic shelf labels.

Many new developments can be viewed in the rows of exhibits, such as displays made with quantum dots. Of the 74 sessions in the technical program, at least eight are devoted to flexible displays (including one on electronic paper) or wearable displays.

A seminar on Monday, June 1, titled “Major Issues of AMOLED Displays: Challenges of Flexible OLED Displays and OLED TV” and given by Professor Jun Souk of Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea, attracted a standing-room-only audience. Thursday, June 4, will see a day-long Market Focus Conference on Wearable-Flexible, with presentations by ARM Holdings, Google, Intel, and other companies.

Sri Peruvemba, chief executive officer of Marketer International, said Tuesday, June 2, that flexible, foldable, and even rollable displays are among the top trends this year at the Society for Information Display conference. The tantalizing prospect of flexible displays has been around for some years, and “I hope it will happen before I retire,” he said.

While E Ink gets most of its revenue from displays for electronic readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, it is active in flexible displays, too, for such applications as smartwatches, according to Giovanni Mancini, the company’s senior director and head of global marketing. For larger form factors, E Ink offers its Mobius active-matrix, thin-film transistor displays, developed in conjunction with Sony. Mobius displays weigh less than half of comparably-sized glass-based electronic paper displays, according to E Ink.

C3nano, a venture-funded startup based in Hayward, California, is completing its emergence from stealth mode with a booth at the SID conference. The company is touting the use of silver nanowires in flexible materials as an alternative to utilizing indium tin oxide. CEO Cliff Morris said C3nano chose silver nanowire technology, based on work from Professor Zhenan Bao’s chemical engineering laboratory at Stanford University, to produce transparent conductive transfer films and inks in its Activegrid line. The company on Monday announced a joint development partnership with Hitachi Chemical.

“Non-ITO transparent conductors are not only replacing ITO, but also provide functions that ITO cannot,” Jennifer Colegrove, CEO and principal analyst at Touch Display Research, said in a statement.

Morris said carbon nanotube nanowires are stronger than silver nanowires, yet don’t offer the clarity and transparency of their silver counterparts. And silver is easily available as a source material, he noted.

Corning had a number of product introductions at the show, including its new Lotus NXT Glass for high-performance displays. The company was also exhibiting its flexible Willow Glass, which can be mounted on a carrier glass with its proprietary bonding solution to provide curved displays for cellphones and other mobile devices.

Flexible displays – they could be coming to your smartphone, laptop, or tablet computer in the near future.

Silicon Summit speakers look at the future of chip technology

Friday, April 17th, 2015
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Gregg Bartlett

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Quick quiz: What topics do you think were discussed at length Wednesday at the Global Semiconductor Alliance’s Silicon Summit?

A. The Internet of Things.

B. Augmented reality and virtual reality.

C. Cute accessories for spring and summer looks.

The answers: A and B. C could be right if you count wearable electronics as “cute accessories.”

Wednesday’s forum at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., not far from  Google’s headquarters, was dominated by talk of IoT, AR, VR, and (to a lesser extent) wearable devices.

Gregg Bartlett, senior vice president of the Product Management Group at GlobalFoundries, kicked off the morning sessions with a talk titled “IoT: A Silicon Perspective.” He said, “A lot of the work left in IoT is in the edge world.”

Bartlett noted, “A lot of the infrastructure is in place,” yet the lack of IoT standards is inhibiting development, he asserted.

“IoT demands the continuation of Moore’s Law,” Bartlett said, touting fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator technology as a cost-effective alternative to FinFET technology. FD-SOI “is the killer technology for IoT,” he added.

Next up was James Stansberry, senior vice president and general manager of IoT Products at Silicon Laboratories. Energy efficiency is crucial for IoT-related devices, which must be able to operate for 10 years with little or no external power, he said.

Bluetooth Smart, Thread, Wi-Fi, and ZigBee provide the connectivity in IoT networks, with a future role for Long-Term Evolution, according to Stansberry. He also played up the importance of integration in connected devices. “Nonvolatile memory has to go on the chip” for an IoT system-on-a-chip device, he said.

For 2015, Stansberry predicted a dramatic reduction in energy consumption for IoT devices; low-power connectivity standards will gain traction; and the emergence of more IoT SoCs.

Rahul Patel, Broadcom’s senior vice president and general manager of wireless connectivity, addressed health-care applications for the IoT. “Security is key,” he said. Reliability, interoperability, and compliance with government regulations are also required, Patel noted.

“My agenda is to scare everyone to death,” said Martin Scott, senior vice president and general manager of the Cryptography Research Division at Rambus. Cybersecurity with the IoT is causing much anxiety, he noted. “Silicon can come to the rescue again,” he said. “If your system relies on software, it’s hackable.”

To build trust in IoT devices and networks, the industry needs to turn to silicon-based security, according to Scott. “Silicon is the foundation of trusted services,” he concluded.

The second morning session was titled “The Future of Reality,” with presentations by Keith Witek, corporate vice president, Office of Corporate Strategy, Advanced Micro Devices; Mats Johansson, CEO of EON Reality; and Joerg Tewes, CEO of Avegant.

Augmented reality and virtual reality technology is “incredibly exciting,” Witek said. “I love this business.” He outlined four technical challenges for VR in the near future: Improving performance; ensuring low latency of images; high-quality consistency of media; and system-level advances. “Wireless has to improve,” Witek said.

VR is “starting to become a volume market,” Johansson said. What matters now is proceeding “from phone to dome,” where immersive experiences meet knowledge transfer, he added. Superdata, a market research firm, estimates there will be 11 million VR users by next year, according to Johansson.

Avegant had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year to fund its Glyph VR headset, with product delivery expected in late 2015, Tewes said. The Glyph has been in development for three years, he said, employing digital micromirror device technology, low-power light-emitting diodes, and latency of less than 12 microseconds to reduce or eliminate the nausea that some VR users have experienced, he said.

The afternoon session was devoted to “MEMS and Sensors, Shaping the Future of the IoT.” Attendees heard from Todd Miller, Microsystems Lab Manager at GE Global Research; Behrooz Abdi, president and CEO of InvenSense; Steve Pancoast, Atmel’s vice president of software and applications; and David Allan, president and chief operating officer of Virtuix.

Miller outlined the challenges for the industrial Internet – cybersecurity, interoperability, performance, and scale. “Open standards need to continue,” he said.

General Electric and other companies, including Intel, are involved in the Industrial Internet Consortium, which is developing use cases and test beds in the area, according to Miller.

He noted that GE plans to begin shipping its microelectromechanical system devices to external customers in the fourth quarter of this year.

Abdi said, “What is the thing in the Internet of Things? The IoT is really about ambient computing.” IoT sensors must continuously answer these questions: Where are you, what are you doing, and how does it feel, he said.

The IoT will depend upon “always on” sensors, making it more accurate to call the technology “the Internet of Sensors,” Abdi asserted. He cautioned against semiconductor suppliers getting too giddy about business prospects for the IoT.

“You’re not going to sell one billion sensors for a buck [each],” Abdi said.

Pancoast of Atmel said sensors would help provide “contextual computing” in IoT networks. “Edge/sensing nodes are a major part of IoT,” he noted. Low-power microcontrollers and microprocessors are also part of the equation, along with “an ocean of software” and all IoT applications, Pancoast added. He finished with saying, “All software is vulnerable.”

Allan spoke about what he called “the second machine age,” with the first machine age dating to 1945, marking the advent of the stored-program computer and other advances. “The smartphone is the first machine of the second machine age,” he said.

IoT involves wireless sensor networks and distributed computing, he said. Google has pointed the way over the past decade, showing how less-powerful computers, implemented in large volumes, have become the critical development in computing, Allan noted. Because of this ubiquity of distributed computing capabilities, “Moore’s Law doesn’t matter as much,” he said.

With the IoT, “new machines will augment human desires,” Allan predicted, facilitating such concepts as immortality, omniscience, telepathy, and teleportation. He explained how technology has helped along the first three – we know what people are thinking through Facebook and Twitter – and the last is just a matter of time, according to Allan.