Credit: Air Force Research Laboratory

A new, flexible, silicon-on-polymer chip was developed to augment new networked realities such as the Internet of Things. Typical silicon-based integrated circuits are brittle, rigid components packaged in a way that protects them. When these devices are put into a flexible form factor, rigidity is a negative trait.

Silicon integrated circuit chips were thinned until they became flexible, but were still able to maintain circuit functionality. This allows the microcontrollers — essentially minicomputers — to be put in places that they could not be placed previously.

Instead of big, bulky chips, the new microcontrollers are able to bend and flex. This allows them to integrate on systems such as wearable devices for hydration and fatigue monitoring, and in soft robotics for wounded warfighters or the elderly.

Not only is the new chip flexible, but is actually a microcontroller with an onboard memory, able to both control a system and collect data for future analysis. The integrated circuit has a memory more than 7,000 times larger than any other commercially available device. It is capable of turning a system on and off, and can also collect data from a sensor and retain it in memory. This type of chip can be wrapped around a fuel bladder sensor to detect leaks, monitor munitions inventory, and augment cold-chain monitoring through temperature sensing.

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