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3D printers generate tiny PCBs

24 Nov 2015  | Rick Merritt

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Qualcomm explores surface electronics

Stein Lundby

Stein Lundby, a Qualcomm researcher, with his prototype plastic sensor platform after a keynote at IDTechEx.

The technology for electronics on plastic substrates, also known as surface electronics, is here today. Qualcomm researchers are seeking applications for it.

"We try to identify or create high-value apps that leverage these relatively crappy electronics and take advantage of their dimensions that traditional electronics do not address," said Stein Lundby, a Qualcomm researcher shown above with his prototype plastic sensor platform after a keynote at the event.

The company's first prototype is EnFucell, a hybrid plastic circuit with Bluetooth and accelerometer chips mounted on it (seen at bottom). The Band-Aid shaped device can be placed on a golf club to measure a player's swing.

Enfucell

The disposable patch uses a printed circuit and battery that can last for the duration of a game, reporting stats to a smartphone app. Researchers were able to extract useful data from the sensors with the one-time use product that avoids subjecting chips routinely to the 1500G forces generated by a golf swing, something chips embedded in a club could not withstand, he said.

Qualcomm won't market the prototype. Instead, it used it as a test case to get information on cost targets, sensor accuracy and manufacturing issues with current state-of-the-art processes. Lundby sees promise in using surface electronics to add value to everyday objects in ways that don't necessarily put the device directly on the Internet.

Surface electronics


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