UK-based Plastic Logic and French company ISORG have created what the pair tout as a first in flexible printed electronics: a large area, conformable, organic image sensor printed on plastic. (Source: ISORG and Plastic Logic)
Even if they're not actually Dick Tracy-style, flexible wraparound watches and wristbands are definitely a possible application for this technology, as they are for other printed flex sensor technology. For example, those health-monitoring wristbands that take your temperature, heart rate and other data during exercise. Now they could record image data as well.
What has not been mentioned is the improvments in ruggedness and durability that would come from the circuitry not breaking when flexed a bit. That should open up a realm of applications where previously a display or sensor would have broken during normal use. A flexible image sensor could watch stamping die activity from a much closer viewpoint, for instance.
Interesting comment, William, since making flex circuits that don't break was one of the big challenges in the earlier days of this technology's R&D. I see your point about applications--flex image sensors could be used in many places where traditional rigid image sensors couldn't go before.
Interesting, and note, I'm no optics expert, but doesn't every image sensor need a lens to properly focus in on some field of view? If the sensor is flexible, then doesnt' that make it tougher for the lens to do its job?
Excellent question, edsut. The answer to your first question, "doesn't every image sensor need a lens to properly focus in on some field of view?" is yes, but... A very accurate lens is only needed for taking pictures. We have been trained to think of image sensors as being used in cameras for increasingly sharp, accurate and realistic pictures, especially in machine vision. But in motion sensing, an image sensor such as the Kinect's doesn't have to "see" your gesture very well--it just has to sense the position and direction of your arm or other body movements, aided by a depth sensor for 3D and a tracking chip. Then the motion capture software takes over to decide what your gestures mean. The Kinect lens is small, round and unsophisticated. There's a good Wikipedia article on the subject. Regarding flexible lenses, the human eye has a flexible, curved lens, and some curved Fresnel lenses (used in lighthouses) are flexible. So are intra-ocular lenses implanted in the eye for correcting myopia.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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