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The Plastic Processor

Europeans announce the first organic microprocessor

3 min read

Take a bow, flexible chip. This week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, in San Francisco, European researchers will introduce the world’s first microprocessor made with organic semiconductors. The 4000-transistor, 8-bit logic circuit has the processing power of only a 1970s-era silicon model, but it has a key advantage—it can bend. The device’s designers say the chip could lead the way to cheaper flexible displays and sensors. Wrapped around pipes, for example, sheets of sensors with these processors could record average water pressure, and wrapped around food and pharmaceuticals, they might indicate that your tuna is rancid or that you forgot to take your pills.

The key to the chip’s design was taming the somewhat unruly organic transistor, says Jan Genoe, a polymer and molecular electronics researcher at Belgian nanotech research center Imec, in Leuven, who led the research with colleague Kris Myny. One advantage silicon has over organics is its monocrystalline structure, which allows for well-behaved switches. If you increase the transistor gate’s voltage above a known threshold, the current turns on. But today’s organic transistors—which swap silicon for a polymer—are unpredictable. Each one can have a slightly different switching threshold.

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A Circuit to Boost Battery Life

Digital low-dropout voltage regulators will save time, money, and power

11 min read
Image of a battery held sideways by pliers on each side.
Edmon de Haro

YOU'VE PROBABLY PLAYED hundreds, maybe thousands, of videos on your smartphone. But have you ever thought about what happens when you press “play”?

The instant you touch that little triangle, many things happen at once. In microseconds, idle compute cores on your phone's processor spring to life. As they do so, their voltages and clock frequencies shoot up to ensure that the video decompresses and displays without delay. Meanwhile, other cores, running tasks in the background, throttle down. Charge surges into the active cores' millions of transistors and slows to a trickle in the newly idled ones.

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