NextFlex will once again open the doors to its manufacturing facility in San Jose for its second annual Innovation Day on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. Since its inception in 2015 – when the U.S. Dept. of Defense announced a $75-million award to advance the country’s manufacturing ecosystem and workforce for flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) – NextFlex has issued three project calls aimed at bringing FHE solutions to market for a staggering $45 million (including cost-share). This week, NextFlex brings together more than 50 companies, government agencies and universities to demonstrate the technology advances these investments have yielded, as well as other efforts underway in the burgeoning FHE industry.
FHE promises to transform powerful, yet traditionally bulky, electronics into formats that bend, stretch, fold, and conform to the contours of our world, from human bodies to vehicles, buildings, and many other objects. The next generation of electronics will produce smarter and lighter consumer wearables; health monitoring devices, including intelligent patches and bandages for medical treatments; structural monitoring to protect and optimize buildings, vehicles, bridges, and more; and “soft” robotics, including advanced flexible electronics for prosthetics that can assist, restore, or enhance physical capabilities.
As NextFlex Executive Director Malcolm Thompson noted, no other event can provide such a compelling look at the future of FHE. “Consumer and military applications for FHE devices abound – in turn, providing significant economic and job growth opportunities for U.S. companies, starting with increased demand for materials to produce key FHE components, such as sensors, interconnect, and ICs, and flexible batteries,” said Dr. Thompson. “Early adopters of these technologies will be the medical and healthcare communities, as well as such mainstay industries as automotive, aerospace, retail and packaging. FHE devices will also likely impact disruptive technologies including wearable electronics and the IoT. NextFlex is facilitating collaboration, innovation and transformation, illustrated by this unparalleled gathering of companies, academic and nonprofit institutions, and government agencies – all of whom are focused on the single goal of creating a robust FHE manufacturing infrastructure, right here in the U.S.”
The event will feature some of the latest FHE technology currently being developed for commercial (health/wellness, food, sports, agriculture, wearables, aerospace, automotive, etc.) and military applications. Members of the media will also meet and network with key influencers in the FHE manufacturing supply chain, as well as interact with NextFlex government agency partners and dignitaries. More than 50 FHE pioneers will be on hand to demonstrate FHE-enabled products and capabilities. Highlights include:
- American Semiconductor: Lighting and sensors on an ultra-thin FHE microcontroller that can be wrapped around something as small as a pinkie finger.
- DuPont: Clothing, such as the displayed Formula 1 racing suit, will be combined with stretchable electronic inks and films for smart clothing that transforms ordinary fabrics into active, connected, intelligent garments that provide biometric data, including heart rate, breathing rate, form awareness, and muscle tension.
- Flex International: Featured are proof of concept development studies on printed electronics and coatings. By laminating printed carbon ink to fabrics, Flex’s Printed PTC Heater provides warmth for various contexts in a novel sleek, conformable form factor. Also on demonstration are printed stretchable conductors, which are key technology for integrating electronics into athletic clothing.
- GE Global Research: On display is a wireless wearable EKG device reliably communicates between patient and physician, providing instant and constant readings of how the body is responding to various conditions. Additionally a Wearable Bio-Fluid Monitoring System for continuous measurement of hydration on athletes and soldiers will be demonstrated. Implications include reduced incidence of stroke, as well as optimizing performance through temperature control, blood circulation, and efficient waste-removal.
- Georgia Institute of Technology: Sleek, invisible, flexible skin-like, skin-mounted sensors enable wireless human-machine interface through electromyography. In this demo, a machine arm mimics the actions of a human arm, with implications for worker safety in industrial settings, such as handling materials in unsafe environments, as well as for warfighters, such as the ability to remotely disarm IEDs.
- Lockheed Martin: The Desert Hawk III unmanned aircraft system will be on display, together with the FHE components that they are integrating into the next generation of the drone to enable significant improvements in cost and performance. By integrating FHE manufacturing techniques, weight is reduced, thereby increasing range and flight time, and more sensor capabilities can be added for increased intelligence gathering.
- NextFlex: Traditionally built on rigid boards, NextFlex has developed a manufacturing process enabling the Arduino to go thin, light, and flexible. This popular teaching tool in universities opens up new possibilities for students to leverage intelligent capabilities for hardware development for IoT and automation. Makers and electronics hobbyists favor this open-source controller, and will be able to explore additional applications for devices that interact with their environment using sensors and actuators.
- PARC, a Xerox Company: Engineers from PARC and UC San Diego are creating a smart mouth guard that can non-invasively and continuously monitor health by detecting within saliva indicators of exhaustion, glucose levels, and organ distress. The device will communicate these conditions in real-time to a smart watch, phone, or a monitoring doctor. Even with the latest technology, electronic components break down from exposure to moisture and are too rigid and bulky to be practical to work for many applications.