Printable Sensors Power A Drum That Rolls Up Like A Yoga Mat

This new MEMS technology will also bring us luggage that weighs itself.

1 min read
Printable Sensors Power A Drum That Rolls Up Like A Yoga Mat

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What would you do with a thin piece of plastic that is sensitive to touch? Jupiter Hu, director of the flexible electronics technology division at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), has a few ideas for a technology that allows pressure sensors to be printed on sheets of plastic.

He envisions it used in semiconductor manufacturing, to monitor wafer polishing. In healthcare, he says, a thin sheet of sensors laid under a mattress could provide early warning of pressure points

that could turn into bedsores. Smart phones could come with a rollout keyboard—no more fat-finger errors. With weight sensors molded into luggage handles, your suitcase (right) could weigh itself and warn you that you’d over packed before you got to the airport.

And printable sensors make a really cool drum, as demonstrated in the video, top.

These printable sensors are a form of Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). ITRI calls its version of the sensors Micro Deformable Piezoresistive Sensor Technology. ITRI is not the only research group working on flexible MEMS technology—researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are stamping MEMS on plastic. But Hu says ITRI’s version can cover a larger area at a lower cost than other approaches.

While none of these products are on the market yet, luggage manufacturers and other companies are currently testing the technology. ITRI has spun out a company to market the technology, and has set up a manufacturing line for mass production.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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