Transforming silicon based, rigid electronic components into soft, flexible elements is one of the corner stones on the way to more complex wearable electronic technology.
Currently e-textile components circling around passive – electronically speaking – components like conductive yarns for data and power transmission through clothing, electrically conductive fabric for sensors and switches or used for data input like heart rate detection.
More complex electronic is encapsulated into rigid or semi-rigid housings and fitted into wearable electronic objects. But more complex electronic function require the integration of transistors into a textile substrate.
A very promising development comes from a team of researcher led by Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University and engineers from Samsung to develop a new way to align organic microwires to form flexible circuits.
The team’s breakthrough development is to put organic microwires in a liquid solution, filter them through paper in order to position the transistors of the circuit. This allows a denser packing of the microwire transistors which operate about two-and-a-half times more quickly than the organic transistors most other research groups have announced to date.
Organic materials can be cheaper than silicon and metal materials (although slower in performance) with cheaper manufacturing processes such as roll-to-roll printing of photovoltaic cells. They are also more compatible with flexible substrates, such as plastics or textiles.
Although the research alone is not enough to enable economical mass production of low-cost, high-performance flexible electronics, it could make their eventual manufacturing more feasible, according to Jong Min Kim, a Samsung Fellow and senior vice president.
Wearable electronic is of course only part of the application potential of this technology which can be useful in many situation where flexibility of electronics offers greater benefits than conventional electronics.