Since the dawn of infomatics, silicon is and has been the predominant material for the creation of semiconductors and therefore of integrated circuits . The choice fell precisely on this material for two main reasons: it is found in abundance on Earth (it is possible to extract it from sand for example) and it is easily modifiable (thanks to the doping process, the principle underlying semiconductors). However, some researchers have managed to develop the first real ARM processor that uses plastic instead of silicon, how is this possible?
It must be said that silicon has many advantages but also many defects, defects that are starting to be tightened with the passage of time . The first negative point is its stiffness and fragility, which makes it unsuitable for being integrated into “natural” environments. The second flaw is the cost: although, as mentioned above, this is a fairly common element, the cost of a silicon-based device is low but not enough. And this is where PlasticArm comes in, with the goal of making plastic a means by which working chips can be built , bypassing these and other limitations of silicon.
However, it is not all roses and flowers, as expected: the researchers underline that silicon still represents advantages in terms of performance, density and energy efficiency . Therefore, in the future, a combination of both technologies is expected, as a complement to the other.
PlasticArm: plastic ARM processor
PlasticArm is the name of the SoC in question, derived from the Cortex-M0 +, based on a 32-bit ARMv6 . The two processors (the original silicon-based and PlasticArm) are compatible with each other and can run the same codes.
The researchers give some examples of the possible applications of this technology. It would be possible to use this on bottles (just imagine smart bottles of milk or juices that are able to analyze whether the product is still good or not), food packaging; clothing that detect body and external temperatures, wearable patches, bandages and so on and so forth. Going further, one could think of intelligent sensors (capable of processing data, edge computing ) that are placed on internal organs and send a notification in case something is wrong,
“We anticipate that PlasticARM will pave the way for the development of low-cost and fully flexible intelligent integrated systems to enable an 'Internet of everything' consisting of the integration of over a trillion inanimate objects over the next decade into the digital world. Having an ultra-thin, conformable, low-cost and natively flexible microprocessor for everyday objects will unveil the innovations that will lead to a variety of research and business opportunities. "
PlasticArm's performance is currently 29 KHz as an operating frequency, with 128 bytes of RAM and 456 bytes of ROM . The power consumed is 21mW, but the researchers expect to be able to reach 100,000 logic gates in a short time, with lower consumption than now.
The article An ARM processor that uses plastic instead of silicon? Possible! comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .