Philips and researchers from the University in Surrey have made what they claim is a serious breakthrough in creating reliable flexible electronics. This may help fix a sticking point in the development of bendy and rollable gadgets, namely the viability of mass manufacture.
For the past two decades, the Dutch electronics conglomerate has been working with the British researchers on the so-called source-gated transistor (SGT), a type of transistor that controls the electric current just as it enters the semiconductor — this allows for lower energy consumption and lower risks of circuit malfunction, both of which are crucial for the emerging field of flexible electronics.
Radu Sporea, the lead researcher on the project, said there were significant implications for the viability of flexible electronics production:
“These technologies involve thin plastic sheets of electronic circuits, similar to sheets of paper, but embedded with smart technologies. Until now, such technologies could only be produced reliably in small quantities, and that confined them to the research lab. However, with SGTs we have shown we can achieve some characteristics needed to make these technologies viable, without increasing the complexity or cost of the design.”
Sporea added that the breakthrough could bring “the next generation of gadgets” into the mainstream sooner than previously expected.
Philips must certainly be hoping so. Back in the mists of time the company part-owned an outfit called Polymer Vision (spun out of the University of Southampton) that eagerly showed off a flexible e-reader called the Readius. In 2007 it even got Telecom Italia to agree to sell the thing, but Polymer Vision hit money troubles and went under in 2009.
Currently, many researchers are turning to new materials such as silver nanowires in their quest to make flexible electronics viable for the mainstream.