The Internet of Things (IoT) is the technology which promises to revolutionize and totally change the way in which objects are connected. The Internet of Things is a constantly expanding network of connected devices and the devices range from wearable devices to personal computers.
We have seen IoT devices and IoT sensors morph from huge, clunky tools into sensitive, miniaturized objects, and the new idea of electronic stickers promises to even further change the landscape. This rapidly evolving network of connected devices will even expand faster when the requirement for becoming a “smart” device becomes lessened.
One of the major needs of IoT is to have a versatile electronic circuit which is flexible and adaptable to every kind of use. Although graphene proved useful initially, newer technologies offered more promise. One of such technologies is the concept of producing electronic circuits via a silicon wafer which is bot flexible and rigid; making it a little bit amenable to changes in physical structure.
Here, we discuss what electronic stickers are all about, how they work, and their application to IoT.
What are Electronic Stickers?
Circuit stickers or electronic stickers are objects which can be used to make objects more sensitive and interactive; basically making them IoT devices. These circuits, after implementation, can easily be placed on objects and they get to work as desired.
How are Electronic Stickers Achieved?
A unique method of transfer printing is leveraged to produce electronic stickers and it is preferred because of its cost-effectiveness and the simple process involved. A ductile metal layer, a thin-film paper, as well as silicon wafers, are used to produce the circuit.
Below are some of the areas where electronic stickers find the application.
1) Peelable Electronic Films Provided by Purdue University and the University of Virginia
Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Virginia have come together to create electronic stickers which eliminate the high cost associated with manufacturing and the cumbersome process of production, making objects aptly work as an IoT device.
The team declared that these stickers might be the key to facilitating wireless communication and they have demonstrated the capability of the sticker on various objects. These demonstrations were compiled and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
How is this Electronic Sticker Built?
Unlike conventional electronic circuits that are built on their individual silicon wafer, a substrate which is flat and rigid, this electronic sticker uses the novel technique of transfer printing to cut down the cost of manufacturing. This process involves building an almost infinite number of thin films which house electronic circuits.
Nickel or any other ductile metal layer is placed in between the electronic film and the silicon wafer. The thin-film electronics are then cut, trimmed, and placed on the object to make it instantly electronic.
Chi Hwan Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering at Purdue, likened the sticker to paint on a bridge. In his words, “paint peels when the environment is wet”. The implication of this is that if the wafer can be submerged in water, the mechanical peeling stress is substantially reduced. The sticker is also environmentally friendly.
Applications of this Electronic Sticker
It is possible to customize the sensor and place it on an unmanned aerial vehicle. The drone can then be sent to dangerous areas, detecting gas leaks, faulty transmission lines, etc. It can also be easily peeled off at room temperature when water is applied.
This electronic sticker was recently attached to a flower pot and the object was imbued with temperature sensing abilities. These abilities have the potential to influence the growth of the plant.
The components of the circuit were also shown to work excellently before and after the process of making them into a thin film peeled from the wafer. To demonstrate this, one of the researchers used a film to turn on and off the LED light display. Lee further explained that the process was optimized to enable the delamination of electronic films from wafers free of defects.
Chibitronics is described as a crafty symphony of electronics and paper to produce fun, interactive objects. This project involves the combination of electronic components like LEDs, sensor circuits, microcontrollers on adhesive stickers.
How does it Work?
Think of the whole idea of a partnership between an electronics artist and a hardware expert. Actually, that is exactly what it is. The circuitry is printed on the stickers and a conductive adhesive is applied on the sticker. This means you can connect it to any object you desire. The adhesive can also be removed and reapplied to another surface. Extra adhesive can be applied so as to continue reusing the sticker.
There are various variants of the devices;
- The LED stickers come in four different colors
- The sensor stickers can either work based on light, sound, or a time sequence
- The effect produces can either be “currently blink”, “fade”, “twinkle”, or “heartbeat”
- Also, a touch sensor can be used as the programmable microcontroller
Wiki for Chibitronics
Chibi is inspired by a style of character in Manga that is both adorable and goofy and it is the brainchild of an MIT Ph.D. student, Jie Le. The co-founder is a director at a Singaporean company and her vision is to help users print their personalized circuit designs like stickers.
This led them to establish a Wiki for Chibitronics. The sticker purchased will include both an instruction manual and a coloring book which has several designs that can be actualized by the student. They describe Chibitronics as a research project and not a company.
Very few projects elicit the level of hope and excitement IoT technology provides. The predicted goal of connecting hundreds of billions of devices by 2020 is appearing more feasible by the day and it is only a matter of time before virtually every object in the world is connected to the internet.