Arm releases low-cost flexible plastic chips to realize “interconnection of all things”


Tencent technology news on July 24, the British chip design company arm has just released a new plastic chip prototype called plasticarm. By printing circuits directly on paper, plastic or fabric, such chips can be manufactured at a very low cost, which will help to create an “interconnected” world.
Plastic chips are soft and cheap and can be printed almost anywhere
In recent decades, the size of processors has been shrinking, so that they have become ubiquitous in daily necessities such as televisions, washing machines, smartphones and watches. However, almost all chips today are rigid devices made of silicon in highly specialized and expensive factories.
Now, arm has developed a low-cost flexible chip, which belongs to 32-bit processor. Its circuits and components can be printed on plastic substrate, just as a printer deposits ink on paper. This technology can enable trillions of daily necessities such as clothes and food containers to collect, process and transmit data on the Internet, which may bring convenience to retailers.
Although plasticarm is not the first flexible chip, it is the most complex, consisting of 56340 components, including 32-bit Cortex-M0 CPU (the cheapest and simplest processor core in arm Cortex-M Series), 456 byte ROM and 128 byte ram. It has more than 18000 logic gates, and arm says the number is at least 12 times that of previous plastic chips.
Plasticarm was designed by arm in cooperation with pragmatic, a flexible electronics manufacturer. As explained by the company’s designer in a paper published in nature, plasticarm does not yet have the same functions as silicon chip design. For example, it can only run three test programs hard wired to the circuit during manufacturing, but arm researchers say they are developing future versions that allow the installation of new code.
Arm’s plastic arm chip is not the fastest or most efficient, but it is the most flexible
Plastic arm and similar chips are special in that they use flexible components. For example, plastic arm uses metal oxide thin film transistors (TFTs). Unlike processors based on fragile silicon substrates, these chips can be printed on curved surfaces without degradation. This makes it possible to print processors cheaply on materials such as plastic and paper.
As the arm researchers explained in their paper, this will allow microchips to be used for various purposes that seem wasteful today. For example, you can print a chip on each milk bottle to mark whether it has gone bad. Arm said that this will create a new “interconnected” world. This chip will be integrated into “more than 1 trillion inanimate objects” in the next decade.
However, plastic based chips also have major defects and will certainly not replace silicon processors in the short term. They are too inefficient in terms of energy consumption, density and performance. For example, plastic arm consumes 21 MW of power, but 99% of it is wasted, and only 1% is used for calculation. The chip also has a large area of 59.2 mm2, which is about 1500 times the size of the silicon-based cortex M0 processor.
As James Myers, an arm research engineer, said, “the speed of plasticarm is not very fast, nor is it an energy-saving chip, but it’s a good idea to put it on lettuce to track the shelf life. At the same time, we are still looking for other uses. Can it be used for intelligent packaging? Can acting as a gas sensor tell us what is safe to eat? Can it be used for wearable health patches? These are interesting projects we are considering. “( Tencent Technology (reviser / Jinlu)