USB flash drives are a common accessories in offices and school environments. But thanks to the rise in printable electronics, digital storage devices like these may soon be everywhere like on our groceries, medicine bottles and clothing.
Researchers have brought us closer to a future of low-cost, flexible electronics by creating a new "spray-on" digital memory device using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks.
The device is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.
The researches have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and they've even done their own little demonstration using LEDs.
At the core of the new device, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is a new copper-nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information.
The new material, made of silica-coated copper nanowires, encodes information not in states of charge but instead in states of resistance. By applying a small voltage, it can be switched between a state of high resistance, which stops electric current, and a state of low resistance, which allows current to flow. And the nanowires and the polymer can be dissolved in methanol, creating a liquid that can be sprayed through the nozzle of a printer.
To create the device, they researchers first used commercially-available gold nanoparticle ink to print a series of gold electrodes onto a glass slide. He then printed the copper-nanowire memory material over the gold electrodes, and finally printed a second series of electrodes, this time in copper.
While these devices won't be storing digital photos or music any time soon, their memory capacity is much too small for that, they may be useful in applications where low cost and flexibility are key, the researchers say.
Example: Right now RFID tags just encode a particular produce number, and they are typically used for recording inventory. But increasingly people also want to record what environment that product felt -- such as, was this medicine always kept at the right temperature? One way these could be used would be to make a smarter RFID tags that could sense their environments and record the state over time.
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