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posted by hubie on Friday June 17, @11:23PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the chip-for-everybody-and-everything dept.

Researchers design cheap plastic processor that could usher in the age of truly ubiquitous electronics:

If you've been following statistics about the Internet of Things (IoT), which is growing by billions of devices every year, the numbers are pretty mind-boggling. But the truth is that expensive silicon chips are actually holding this rampant growth back.

But now researchers have designed a new plastic processor, which they estimate will be able to be mass-produced for less than a penny. That's right — the new Flexicore chips could kick-start a world in which everything — from bandages to bananas — could have a chip, according to a report by IEEE Spectrum.

The chip designs we currently use — even for the most basic microcontrollers — are too complex to be mass-produced in plastic: You surely won't see a plastic processor on our list of best CPUs for gaming. [...]

To address the peculiarities of plastic chip design, the University of Illinois team built the new Flexicore processor design from scratch. Because yields dive when processor gate count rise, they decided to make a minimal design that reduced the gate count and used 4-bit and 8-bit logic instead of 16-bit or 32-bit alternatives. [...]

A sample 4-bit FlexiCore processor is 5.6mm square and contains 2,104 semiconductor devices, similar to a classic Intel 4004 CPU. [...]

With this sub-penny plastic processor, and the move of flexible electronics from niche to mainstream, we may be seeing the dawn of truly ubiquitous electronics. The above research is going to be presented at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture later this month, so we should learn more about it and further development plans soon.

We speed headlong into our (dystopian?) IoT future.

See also: The First High-Yield, Sub-Penny Plastic Processor


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by drussell on Friday June 17, @11:31PM (4 children)

    by drussell (2678) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 17, @11:31PM (#1254103) Journal

    How would this "plastic "processor be a better idea than an off-the-shelf $0.03 Padauk microcontroller?

    https://youtu.be/VYhAGnsnO7w [youtu.be]
    EEVblog #1132 - The 3 Cent Microcontroller!

    • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @01:16AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @01:16AM (#1254121)

      Looks like Padauk is not immune from the worldwide semiconductor shortage, the Padauk is now 5¢ on LCSC [lcsc.com]. Gotta break the bank now!

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Immerman on Saturday June 18, @01:33AM (2 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Saturday June 18, @01:33AM (#1254127)

      Off the cuff?

      Flexibility.

      A much thinner profile for tiny/thin devices

      And probably much lower capital costs for creating a production facility, allowing for less expensive customized versions.

      And of course - price. At less than $0.01 there's doubtless a whole lot of potential applications where $0.03 is probably too expensive to justify. Just as there's far more applications for a $25 CPU than a $100 one. As stuff gets cheaper, the profit margins get tighter, and a $0.02 per unit difference could make a product dramatically more profitable.

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:20AM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:20AM (#1254135)

        And probably much lower capital costs for creating a production facility, allowing for less expensive customized versions.

        There is absolutely nothing in the article to suggest this could possibly be the case, so this is pure speculation.

        It seems to me that using exotic semiconductor materials is just as likely to result in increased capital outlay rather than the opposite.

        And of course - price. At less than $0.01 there's doubtless a whole lot of potential applications where $0.03 is probably too expensive to justify.

        Yes, making things even cheaper will open up new applications. But I'll believe a $0.01 price point when you can actually buy them at that price point. Right now the $0.01 processor does not actually exist. You can buy the $0.03$0.05 Padauk right now.

        • (Score: 3, Touché) by sgleysti on Saturday June 18, @03:50PM

          by sgleysti (56) on Saturday June 18, @03:50PM (#1254228)

          All of this info is available at the fab's website: https://www.pragmaticsemi.com/ [pragmaticsemi.com]

          Production facility capital costs are lower, processing time is lower, and startup cost for a design is lower, compared to Silicon.

  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:16AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:16AM (#1254109)

    that get their power from what, unicorn farts?

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:28AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:28AM (#1254115)

      A tiny flexible battery, radio harvesting, a burst of energy from passive RFID, etc.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:44AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @12:44AM (#1254117)

      Gee, what's with all the static?

      Maybe friction electricity.

    • (Score: 2) by MIRV888 on Saturday June 18, @02:25AM

      by MIRV888 (11376) on Saturday June 18, @02:25AM (#1254138)

      solar cloth

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by sgleysti on Saturday June 18, @12:57AM (2 children)

    by sgleysti (56) on Saturday June 18, @12:57AM (#1254119)

    Forget the flexible aspect, IOT, tracking, whatever. If this would put custom chip design within the budget range of an individual person, that would be simply incredible, even if the performance specs weren't great.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @01:25AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @01:25AM (#1254124)

      If this would put custom chip design within the budget range of an individual person, that would be simply incredible, even if the performance specs weren't great.

      The article only talks about mass production; nothing all is said about reduced costs of short production runs.

      These days powerful FPGAs are well within the hobbyist price point (supply shortages notwithstanding) and have a much lower barrier to entry than producing custom ASICs.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by sgleysti on Saturday June 18, @03:25AM

        by sgleysti (56) on Saturday June 18, @03:25AM (#1254146)

        This is in a very different space from powerful FPGAs. I was thinking more tiny low-power stuff, like things you'd want to run from a battery. Sometimes, there's something really small and simple that I'd like to do, and an ASIC would have a chance of being lower power than, say, using an MCU or a few ICs stitched together. Because you'd have just the things you need to perform the function, and nothing more.

  • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Saturday June 18, @01:56AM

    by krishnoid (1156) on Saturday June 18, @01:56AM (#1254130)

    Something in the proximity of a penny apiece? Perfect! Preview, post.

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by krishnoid on Saturday June 18, @02:03AM (7 children)

    by krishnoid (1156) on Saturday June 18, @02:03AM (#1254131)

    I thought Micro-plastics were *bad*.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:12AM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:12AM (#1254133)

      Don't forget to peel it off the banana before you eat the banana peel.

      • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:46AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:46AM (#1254141)

        > Don't forget to peel it off the banana before you eat the banana peel.

        Don't forget to peel it off the banana before you smoke the banana peel.

        ftfy

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by stretch611 on Saturday June 18, @04:54AM (1 child)

        by stretch611 (6199) Subscriber Badge on Saturday June 18, @04:54AM (#1254156)

        If you peel off the processor label from the banana peel, how will the 5g cell towers track you?

        --
        Vaccinated, boosted (twice), and still expecting to be asked to roll up my sleeve again in the fall
    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday June 18, @12:49PM (2 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday June 18, @12:49PM (#1254212)

      Plastics in general are waste products of the oil refineries. They're going to become a lot less cost-efficient when they're not available as a no-cost byproduct of a hugely profitable non-renewable resource stream.

      --
      Україна не входить до складу Росії.
      • (Score: 2) by Joe Desertrat on Monday June 20, @01:08AM (1 child)

        by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Monday June 20, @01:08AM (#1254496)

        There are enough plastics floating in the oceans and in upper layers of landfills to make mining them a feasible low cost operation for at least a few years.

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday June 20, @02:18AM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday June 20, @02:18AM (#1254502)

          A few years, sure. But those kids' playsets constructed with 20 lbs of plastic for 49.95? That's repackaging of waste material in primary colors for use by infants.

          --
          Україна не входить до складу Росії.
  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:53AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @02:53AM (#1254142)

    Roughly the same capability as the original Intel 4004 -- which sold for $60 in quantity (per wikipedia).
    The 6000:1 price ratio would be quite a bit larger if inflation was included.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @05:16PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, @05:16PM (#1254234)

      Why is this modded offtopic?

  • (Score: 5, Funny) by stretch611 on Saturday June 18, @05:11AM (3 children)

    by stretch611 (6199) Subscriber Badge on Saturday June 18, @05:11AM (#1254160)

    I still remember learning how to program on various 8 bit, 6502 processor, computers. My 1st home computer had 5k RAM, and after all the buffers and reserved memory it greeted me with 3583 bytes free. I had plenty of things work on it from games to speadsheets and a word processor.

    However, I truly question how the most recent programmers are going to be able to work on a computer made with these chips... How will they be able to create anything without 16GB (or more) of memory to waste? Without swapping, even 16 bit addressing (2 bytes) can only access 64K of memory.2 byte

    --
    Vaccinated, boosted (twice), and still expecting to be asked to roll up my sleeve again in the fall
    • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Saturday June 18, @06:36AM (2 children)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Saturday June 18, @06:36AM (#1254181) Journal

      The same people who currently program the wide variety of single board computers (SBC) e.g. raspberry pi, beaglebone, etc

      They currently program boards with kB of memory and don't have to use the big libraries that other programmers might rely upon.

      But I think that your comment was intended to be both sarcastic and humorous - I have moderated it accordingly!

      --
      We are always looking for new staff in different areas - please volunteer if you have some spare time and wish to help
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by maxwell demon on Saturday June 18, @07:41AM (1 child)

        by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday June 18, @07:41AM (#1254185) Journal

        Even my pretty old Pi 1B has about 400MB available memory (as reported by free), which is far more than any 8 bit processor could address, let alone an Intel 4004. Indeed, even the 8086 could only address a single megabyte. Heck, it's a large multiple of the hard disk space early PCs came with.

        A web search for the Beaglebone shows that it also comes with half a gigabyte of memory at minimum.

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
        • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Saturday June 18, @08:55AM

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Saturday June 18, @08:55AM (#1254193) Journal

          I don't know the beaglebone very well - I use arduinos and raspberry pi. My mistake.

          --
          We are always looking for new staff in different areas - please volunteer if you have some spare time and wish to help
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by datapharmer on Saturday June 18, @08:38AM (1 child)

    by datapharmer (2702) on Saturday June 18, @08:38AM (#1254190)

    Well at least a trusty tinfoil hat will still protect us from the plastic processor powered mind-control bandages soon to be deployed by the pentaverate.

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