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Flexible, foldable, wearable - the next generation of computers is close at hand

posted 20 Dec 2011, 05:38 by Mpelembe   [ updated 20 Dec 2011, 05:39 ]


South Korean scientists say they have developed flexible memory technology that could support bendable computer platforms for e-books and cell phones. Previous attempts have been hampered by cell-to-cell interference but now the researchers say the problem has been resolved leaving no further obstacle for a new generation of ultra-thin, lightweight computers that can be rolled up, folded or even integrated with clothing.
DAEJON, SOUTH KOREA (RECENT) (REUTERS) - After years of laboratory research, scientists at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science (KAIST) say they have developed a material that could support high-performance flexible electronic systems such as bendable computers, display, and smartphones without the cell-to-cell interference problems that have dogged previous attempts.

Technology giants like Samsung are already preparing for the era of mass-produced flexible computers that can be bent, rolled up or folded. The KAIST announcement brings that era a step closer.

Memory is an essential part in electronic systems, as it is used for data processing, information storage and communication with external devices. The development of flexible memory has been a challenge to the development of flexible electronics.

Previous flexible memory materials have been undermined by an inability to prevent electrical interference between cells that causes disruption of computer systems. But KAIST says they've found a solution and created a fully-functioning flexible memory that integrates state-of-the-art electonics including a memory resistor and single crystal silicon transistor on a flexible substrate. According to Professor Lee Keon-jae of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the KAIST, the technology overcomes the problem of cell-to-cell interference.

"We successfully integrated the high performance silicon switching transistors with the next generation non-volatile memory, called memristor and we successfully demonstrated all memory functions like writing, reading, erasing on flexible substrate worked perfectly," he said.

With comparable technologies, says Lee, such results could not be achieved. Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) has high speed but is volatile, and will erase data

when the power is off. Another memory storage system, flash memory, is nonvolatile, but has slow speed. Lee says KAIST's new technology, based on what he calles resistive memory, has high speed and is non-volatile.

"Resistive memory has received its attention as a next generation memory device due to non-volatile property with 100 times faster speed compared to conventional flash memory," said Lee.

The task of integrating the electronics onto a flexible platform was a challenge. While memory devices have been fabricated on rigid silicon substrates, they've never been applied to flexible memory.

"By using ultrathin silicon nano-membrance, which is one thousand less thicker than human hair, we achieved both high performance and flexibility on plastic substrate," Lee

said .

Professor Lee says he is almost ready to report in his next scientific paper that the flexible technologies can make the dream of bendable computers come true.

"We have already developed new flexible technology capable of large scale integration using nano-trasistors and will report in our next paper. If these flexible technologies are realized in our real life the impact would be much bigger than what we expect such as a freely bendable and attachable computer can be possible," he said.

Lee says the technologies could be used for biomedical devices as well as electronic devices.

"Flexible consumer electronics such as computer, display, smartphone attached to the wrist can be an interesting application field. In addition, implantable-biomedical devices conformably placed on the heart, corrugated brain or organs, or rolled upon the blood vessels for diagnosing or even treating the disease is exciting and new field area that can improve the quality of human life. High performance, thin, light and flexible electronic system would play an important role for realizing these interesting applications," said Lee.

The flexible technology would be developed and commercialised in a relatively short period of time Lee says, if as he expects, demand for smart, new, flexible computer products continues to grow.