Electronics that can break out of their rigid boxes, and be embedded into stretchy, even wearable, materials — that’s the goal of startup mc10, which packages up semiconductors, like silicon, so they can bend, twist and wrap around other structures. The company has just raised $12.5 million led by longtime energy investors Braemar Energy Ventures.
One of the novelties of mc10’s technology, is that it has so many applications. Medical devices (flexible sensors and surgery tools), clothing with embedded electronics for soldiers or fashion, automotive lighting, or energy and solar technology, like flexible solar panels and movement-powered materials. Yep, picture joggers of the future charging their iPods via their hoodies, and mc1o has an R&D partnership with Reebok for athletic wear.
I first heard about mc10 when the startup won backing, along with researchers from University of Illinois, from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), which is a DOE program modeled after the Department of Defense’s DARPA program. The idea of ARPA-E is to award small grants to early stage, high-risk projects. mc10 and its research group received $1.71 million to make flexible nano-structured electronics that can convert waste heat into electricity.
At the time of its ARPA-E grant, mc10 said the project involved technical risks, making it hard for them to raises VC funds at that stage. Looks like either those risks were abated, or Braemer and mc10’s other investors, which include North Bridge Venture Partners, Osage University Partners, and Terawatt Ventures, are now willing to swallow the risks. The market size is large enough — scaling up and getting costs low will be the hurdle.
As devices get smaller, and sensors get embedded on everything from pill cap bottles to industrial machinery, new form factors for electronics will be needed. Batteries are going through the same stage of innovation, and ultra-thin and uniquely shaped batteries are being developed.
Image courtesy of pt.