Printed Electronics 2009: DARPA Projects

Dev Shenoy, program manager at DARPA, gave a good keynote presentation at the Printed Electronics 2009 conference today, highlighting some of the printed electronics projects that the agency supports.

Printed Spintronic Memory: This project aims to replace all other types of data storage–magnetic hard disk, flash, DRAM, MRAM, SRAM, etc., with one type storage to rule them all. It’s called spin torque-transfer memory, or STT-RAM for short, and it uses the spin of electrons to store data. DARPA is supporting projects to print STT-RAM using organic materials–a first. The claim is that STT-RAM could be 100 times more energy-efficient than SRAM and 100,000 more energy efficient than flash.

Eye-shaped Camera: The curved shape of an eye is a great example of how a simple design provides exceptional performance. A flat camera sensor can’t match the field of view we have with our eyes. DARPA is interested in spherical cameras because one round camera could replace three flat cameras in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to Shenoy. Since traditional chip manufacturing processes are done on flat surfaces, DARPA is trying to figure out a way to print camera components on a curved surface.
(I’ve written about related work on an eye-shaped camera here and an electronic contact lens here.)

Flexible X-ray: One problem with x-ray detectors are that they are expensive and too large to lug around on the battle field. So DARPA is funding projects (at PARC and GE) to print x-ray sensors on a flexible, lightweight sheet.

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