A paper presented at the prestigious IEEE International Solid States Circuits Conference in 2011 caused more than a little stir in the electronics industry. Researchers from the Belgian nanotech research center Imec described how they inkjet-printed a 3,381-transistor logic circuit made out of plastic.
The number of transistors is noteworthy because it slightly exceeds the number of transistors in the Intel 4004, the world’s first microprocessor released in the early 1970s. The Belgian device occupied 2 cm2 and operated at a sizzling 6 Hz.
You might think most technologists would regard this work as a laboratory curiosity, in that state-of-the-art processors squeeze billions of transistors into the same space and run at speeds measured in gigahertz. But the trend of developments in plastic circuits has captured the imagination of some who see printed electronics as what’s called an exponential technology. Moreover, it could be one of the technologies that help realize the IoT.
Exponential technologies get their name because they experience exponential growth. Exponential growth is often exemplified by the classic chessboard legend. A vizier at the court of a great sultan won a bet with an inexperienced prince. As a prize, the vizier asked for a chessboard and a grain of wheat on the first square, two grains on the second, and so forth, with the number of grains doubling on each square. Thus, the amount of grain on the chessboard squares grew exponentially. On the last square, the prince could only have fulfilled the prize by giving the vizier enough grain to cover the earth several inches deep. … (Read more)