Have you ever thought of having a tablet that can be stretched from small to a large size, or a wallpaper that turns a wall into an electronic display? This imagination may soon be a future reality.
Engineering researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have developed the first stretchable integrated circuit that is made entirely using an inkjet printer, raising the possibility of inexpensive mass production of smart fabric.
“We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electronics comparable to the costs of printing newspapers. Our work could soon lead to printed displays that can easily be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications,” said Chuan Wang, Assistant Professor at MSU.
Since the material can be produced on a standard printer, it has a major potential cost-advantage over current technologies that are expensive to manufacture. According to the researchers, the smart fabric is made up of several materials fabricated from nanomaterials and organic compounds.
“These compounds are dissolved in solution to produce different electronic inks, which are run through the printer to make the devices,” a paper published in the journal ACS Nano noted.
Researchers created an elastic material, the circuit and the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED from the ink. Researchers estimate that in a year or two, they will be able to combine the circuit and OLED into a single pixel, and once that is done, the smart fabric can be potentially commercialised.
“Conceivably, the stretchable electronic fabric can be folded and put in one’s pocket without breaking. This is an advantage over current ‘flexible’ electronics material technology that cannot be folded,” added Wang. “We have taken it one big step beyond the flexible screens that are about to become commercially available,” Wang added.
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