How Printable Computers Will Work

Plastic Vs. Silicon

Plastic may revolutionize the semiconductor industry, but it won't be an overnight revolution. The sophistication of printable computers is still very simple. Currently, plastic fabrication devices can only produce transistors at the 25 micrometer scale (a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter); that's far from the .2 micrometer resolution that is needed to create a working microprocessor. Intel is able to crowd about 10 million transistors only a few hundred nanometers big onto one silicon chip. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

Most researchers will tell you that printable computer components are not designed to replace silicon. Initially, we will see these printable devices used to give intelligence to everyday objects. They will be integrated into clothes, food labels and toys. One of the most exciting applications for printable electronics is creating a wallpaper that doubles as a television screen or computer monitor. MIT also plans to build a digital camera into a a business card.

Plastic does offer some benefits over silicon. Silicon is rigid, while plastic chips are flexible, allowing it to be placed on a variety of substrates. The problem is that, despite great hopes to create a plastic Pentium, printed inorganic transistors are still about 100 times slower than conventional transistors found on silicon chips.

Basically, printable computers represent the merging of conventional printing technologies with computer chip fabrication to produce cheaper, more flexible components. While many obstacles remain in its development, early products are ready to enter the market, such as disposable cell phones and computerized clothing. The next decade may bring us the ability to print out our own electronic devices and sophisticated computers.

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