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NextFlex Takes Key Steps Toward Furthering US Development and Adoption of the Flexible Hybrid Electronics that Will Revolutionize the Way We Live, Work, and Play

First Recipients of Contract Awards Named Following $75 Million Department of Defense Investment to Support Rapid Advancement of Game-Changing FHE Technologies

NextFlex, America’s first, and only, Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Innovation Institute, announced the first four recipients out of eight contracts awarded from the institute’s inaugural project call. Each project was selected for its potential to contribute to the goal of the industry-led, collaboration-based NextFlex: advancing the manufacturing ecosystem for FHE in the US.

The value of all eight contracts is $14.8 million, with $8.6 million of that being cost-shared by the recipients. This is part of $75 million in funding over the next five years that was from the DoD’s initial award last fall. NextFlex will officially open its San Jose headquarters and manufacturing pilot line on Aug. 31.

FHE gives everyday products the power of silicon ICs by combining them with new and unique printing processes and new materials. The result is lightweight, low-cost, flexible, comfortable, stretchable and highly efficient smart products. The first four contracts among this initial wave of eight PC 1.0 awards go to the following:

The Purdue project looks at the potentially significant health care burden posed by chronic oxygen-deprived wounds as the US population ages. Its goal is to create a printed FHE smart wound dressing that can sense oxygen levels in a wound bed and deliver topical oxygen to arrest further deterioration of the wound. The Purdue team will work to bring the dressing to fruition as a manufacturable solution that can be easily adopted and produced in high volumes.

Focusing on the wearable space, the Cal Poly project proposes development of an assembly method for attaching ultra-thin chips onto printed flexible substrates that can provide better performance and comfort for wearable medical/human monitoring systems.

The Cal Poly team will design tooling, characterize and optimize assembly processes, and evaluate various assembly methods’ viability for a pilot build that – unlike prior attempts at similar solutions – Is transferable from the laboratory to the manufacturing floor. By developing assembly technology useful for other applications and growing the expert base, while driving toward a commercially available solution, the project aims to benefit the FHE community overall.

Jointly submitted by PARC and the University of California at San Diego, the third project proposes to create a mouth-guard biosensor label that will serve as a platform for chemical biosensing and wireless communications via the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard.

Wearable by members of the military and others in high-stress positions, the biosensor label in the mouth guard will continuously sense lactate concentration, an important indicator of fatigue. Mouth guards are an ideal format for FHE performance monitoring, as they are standard athletic equipment required in U.S. Army training activities and offer real-time access to saliva biomarkers. In addition, the printed sensor electrodes will be replaceable, increasing system lifetime, reducing per-use cost, and enabling them to be adapted to other chemical analyses.

For the fourth project selected, BU and GE will work to develop and mature the FHE manufacturing technologies needed to fabricate wireless pervasive/ubiquitous integrated sensor systems. These wireless systems, which will be able to continuously monitor and communicate conditions of people and assets, are crucial for digital health initiatives and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT). Developing FHE manufacturing capabilities to create low-cost, high-performance wireless sensor systems is of broad interest to commercial and DoD end-users and is one of the critical missions of NextFlex.

Commenting on the initial contract awards, Dr. Malcolm Thompson, executive director of NextFlex, noted, “Selecting the first projects to be funded by the Institute was no easy task. The response to our initial project call was overwhelming, offering further proof that there is vast potential for leveraging flexible hybrid electronics in U.S. industry. Helping to see these and forthcoming projects through to fruition and, eventually, commercialization, is an exciting prospect for NextFlex and our corporate, academic, nonprofit and government partners.”

Further recipients of Project Call 1.0 contract awards will be announced soon. Review of proposals received for Project Call 2.0, announced May 5, 2016, is currently in process. PC 2.0 is anticipated to fund up to $10 million, with total project value, including cost sharing, expected to exceed $20 million. NextFlex plans to announce PC 3.0 in early 2017.