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Flexing, clear computer components

In an augmented world, you may well have one or more of three distinct types of computer interface on, or even in your body. There are augmenting reality devices, prosthetic components, and direct-wired virtual reality interfaces. All three share aspects in common. Among them, that they all require considerable computing power as close to the implant as possible.

Another is that if they are to interface directly with soft tissue, they should be able to bend and flex, twist and deform just like that soft tissue does, and still function. Thirdly, they should be transparent wherever possible, so that they are not obstructing the view of organs behind them.

These three challenges still loom over implanted electronics, but there are signs that things are changing for the better.

Recently, at time of writing anyway, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) proclaimed success at creating a key computer component that fits all three requirements.

An inexpensive, bendable, flexible memory microchip was the proud item they had created. Its still not ready for market - just a low power proof of concept really, but it marks a turning point in embeddable systems. If microchips can be created that can be squeezed, stretched, twisted, and still function, as the NIST chip can, then for the first time we have true hope of en situ complete computing devices.

A network of these, connected by clear micro-wires could encircle the heart, as a pacemaker and electrical regulator, completely self contained. Prosthetic limb electronics could be scattered in both the original flesh and the prosthetic, seamlessly communicating between both - perhaps a more elegant system than the external targeted muscle re-enervation used today.

Construction of the chip

The researchers took polymer sheets-the sort that transparencies for overhead projectors are made from-and experimented with depositing a thin film of titanium dioxide on their surfaces. Instead of using expensive equipment to deposit the titanium dioxide as is traditionally done, the material was deposited by a sol gel process, which consists of spinning the material in liquid form and letting it set, like making gelatin. By adding electrical contacts, the team created a flexible memory switch that operates on less than 10 volts, maintains its memory when power is lost, and still functions after being flexed more than 4,000 times.

References

Memory with a Twist: NIST Develops a Flexible Memristor

Flexible Memory Opens Doors to New Age of Medical Body Sensors

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