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Powering the Internet of Everything—the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Revolution

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The single greatest barrier to the adoption and growth of IOT-enabled products and services was the topic addressed at the NextFlex Powering the Internet of Everything Workshop held November 6-8 at Georgia Tech. Attended by 90 industry, academic, and government partner representatives, NextFlex members and guests dove into power and energy state-of-the-art and requirements for technology development in multiple application areas requiring energy harvesting, energy storage, and power management strategies. Of greatest interest to the participants were those technologies that had already been demonstrated in the lab and which may be ready for prototyping and pilot scale manufacturing. Identifying the critical gaps and most promising solutions was determined to be a longer-term goal for the Institute and a recommendation for collaboration new Flexible Power Technical Working Group was made at the conclusion of the workshop.

The workshop kicked off with tours of the Georgia Tech labs, including mechanical testing and characterization, additive and 3D printing, device packaging, and more, many of which are actively working on FHE-related projects. Workshop attendees were thrilled to be able to get up close to the interesting projects in which students and faculty are engaged. At each stop in the tour students demonstrated their work and answered questions about their programs, from flexible batteries for IOT to robotic human augmentation exoskeletons (see left), and FHE-enabled wearables.

The full-day workshop began with warm welcomes from both Dr. Stephen Cross, Executive Vice President for Research, and Suresh Sitaraman, Professor, George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and lead of the FHE Initiative at Georgia Tech (at right). Presentations started with an impressive talk by Mallie Eric Preston of AT&T IoT Solutions Group, who strongly made the case for the “4th wave” of communication, providing a level set for power needs for the various IoT applications that will connect the billions of things that FHE will enable. He described new low power, wide area (LPWA) wireless networks now being adopted globally that are optimized for machine communications and IoT, and which will reduce power requirements overall. Mudhakar Srivatsa of IBM Watson Research said that 90% of all data created in the last 10 years was never analyzed, that data loses its value rapidly, and that as of now the collective computational and storage capacity of cell phones exceeds that of all servers in the world combined. He said that it is essential to develop new storage and computational strategies at the edge, thereby reducing requirements for data transmission. Case studies in consumer products, healthcare, and military applications cited increased need for power performance and rounded out the call for action to the tech community for potential solutions that will support these application areas. Whether resolved through energy harvesting or improved energy storage strategies, speakers made it clear that solving these problems not only present a huge challenge, but are the single greatest limiter to widespread adoption of IOT and that FHE-enabled solutions can play a significant role.

Later in the day, final speaker Mark Buccini, Director for Advanced Product Platforms at Texas Instruments, demonstrated an often-overlooked opportunity to optimize power conservation through design logic, if considered early enough in the product development cycle (at right). The workshop concluded with a colorful recap by Jason Marsh, Director of Technology at NextFlex.

During the evening reception, 26 student teams presented posters of their FHE-related projects, sharing details of their work and describing potential applications. The students were delighted to engage with workshop attendees about moving from the university lab environment to what might follow when they complete their studies. SMEs attending the workshop volunteered to judge the student posters with cash prizes going to the top teams based on content, poster appearance, and presentation skills. Seven teams were recognized for their projects and presented with cash awards (at right with Suresh Sitaraman and Dean Sutter of Georgia Tech and Jason Marsh of NextFlex (far right) and Dr. Benjamin Leever, NextFLex CTO/AFRL (far left)).

On the morning of the third day during a NextFlex members-only session, participants broke into small groups to assess inputs from the previous day with the goal of making recommendations to NextFlex for next steps. Recommendations included gathering more quantitative inputs from the broader community, particularly on needs for energy storage standards for flexibility and reliability, with an eye toward manufacturability. The group also strongly supported the formation of a Flexible Power Technical Working Group (TWG) that would engage with other TWGs to collect power and energy requirements and identify critical and pervasive gaps. Participants suggested that these gaps could potentially be through future NextFlex Project Calls and through partnering with federal agencies funding basic research. Other ideas included hosting Flexinars focused on flexible power as well as potentially funding university teams (perhaps working on senior design projects) to address FHE flexible power challenges. NextFlex welcomed these recommendations and is in the process of reaching out to potential Technical Working Group co-leads and will host a call the week of November 20. People interested in joining this proposed new TWG should contact Taylor Gallagher at NextFlex at info@nextflex.us.

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