Printable electronics made a notable return to the news agenda recently. Microsoft Research and the University of Tokyo have shown off a new technique that enables electronic circuits to be printed on to paper using nothing more than a cheap inkjet printer.
It almost sounds too easy, but by using ink laced with silver nanoparticles the researchers have demonstrated some impressive capabilities. From ‘simple’ moisture sensors incorporating detectors and a printed Wi-Fi antenna, to fully-fledged microprocessors and memory chip connectors, the new technique offers a tantalising glimpse of the future.
Perhaps most exciting of all is the potential for this technique to enable ‘tear and share’ paper-based computers where parts of the computer could be literally be torn off or cut out and shared with other people.
While the ink remains expensive for now, the possibilities of this sort of printable electronics sound incredible. As the researchers themselves pointed out this could be a significant development in the growing maker movement.
At the moment 3D printers cannot handle electronic components so as the lead researcher said: “… the idea also fills a gaping void in the capabilities of 3D printers, which can print the casing for a gadget but not the printed circuits that go inside it … In 20 years you really will be able to hit ‘Print’ and make yourself a mobile phone.”
If they can make this all a commercial reality then I really don’t think it will be long before the experience of imagining, designing and printing your own electronic devices at home is part of the mainstream. And as far as I’m concerned that should give us all a little thrill – I can’t wait.
Image credit: RDECOM