ARM says it’s developed the first fully functional PlasticARM microprocessor; a 32-bit SOC made with flexible electronics. PlasticARM is incredibly different from typical microprocessors, which are made from rigid silicon components. But what’s the point? Why is ARM pursuing a flexible chip?
According to ARM’s Charlotte Christopherson, flexible microprocessors could open the door to new, futuristic forms of technology—and we’re not just talking about foldable phones. Grocery stores could use flexible processors in food packaging to help manage inventory, for example, and healthcare professionals could use flexible processors to create disposable, stick-on heart rate sensors or advanced bandages.
These theoretical applications may sound like overkill, but PlasticARM and other non-traditional chips will be significantly cheaper than silicon. They may also have a marginal environmental impact, which opens the door to all kinds of internet-connected single-use products.
📢 Introducing the first fully functional non-silicon @Arm Processor, PlasticArm.
This ultra-minimalist Arm Cortex-M0 based SoC could enable billions of low-cost microprocessors to be embedded into everyday objects.
— Arm (@Arm) July 21, 2021
We may get our first real look at PlasticARM (or a similar system) in a concept smartphone or wearable device a few years from now—you know, because that’s the only way manufacturers know how to show this stuff off. But we don’t really know how powerful non-silicon chips can get. PlasticARM only has 128 bytes of RAM and 456 bytes of ROM, which is impressive for a sliver of plastic, but not exactly heavyweight computing.
ARM modeled the first functional PlasticARM design on the Cortex-M0, which is a cheap, extremely small, super-efficient chip. It may create more powerful designs in the future, though we may need to wait a long time for non-silicon microprocessors to find their way into smartphones or disposable products. You can read more about PlasticARM at Nature.com and the ARM blog.