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December 2007 Issue
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Printed Electronics and the Future of Mobile Phones
By Dr. Peter Harrop
Cambridge, MA — Printed electronics is a term that covers printed and potentially printed electronics in a number of categories. It is the basis of an emerging $300 billion business embracing transistors, memory, displays, solar cells, batteries, sensors, lasers and much more. This new electronics will appear as adhesive tape, wallpaper, billboards, labels, skin patches, smart packaging and books because it will be foldable, conformal, wide area, ultra low cost, edible, rollable, transparent and biodegradable as needed.
There are transparent transistors, batteries, solar cells and more on the way and Kodak has recently patented edible RFID on medicine. And it will all be pivotal to the future of mobile phones. Thanks to printed electronics, mobile phones will have large snap-back keyboards, chargers and color video displays and some of the displays will work well in sunlight. The rest of the world will copy the 40 million Japanese currently using phones to get onto transport and buy things in shops and at smart posters and one billion RFID enabled phones will eventually be sold every year.
Miniaturizing and cost reducing those phones and the smart posters, terminals for tourists and other items the phones will interrogate will all depend on printed electronics. Indeed, a terminal will be reduced to being a label, shelf edge display or poster so it costs far less and does not get in the way.
At Printed Electronics USA, Jos Geboers of The Compliers Group in the Netherlands points out "new developments in printed electronics and more specifically, the use of these new technologies for patients using medicines/drugs. People have a better life if they take the medicines prescribed by the physician at the desired time, not before, not later, not to forget, but just in time. More than 300,000 people die in Europe and the U.S. every year from taking medicines incorrectly, and it has been proven that printed electronics — used on existing medicine blister packages — can play a big role in reducing this number. (It will use) only existing medicine packages, including invisible intelligence, and we can make it simple to use these additional features with the mobile telephone (acting as) our personal terminal."
He says that this "is also an invitation to all technology companies who may like to join The Compliers Association which has the mission to develop such low cost intelligent medication packages, for a better adherence to correct taking of medication and therefore a better quality of life for millions of patients."
According to Andy Hannah, CEO of Plextronics, printed electronics is shaping the way that renewable energy is captured and utilized. "The development of organic solar cell technology has made tremendous progress even since we entered this market just two years ago," Hannah says. "We expect that our customers will use this technology in applications such as OPV chargers for cell phones and laptops. We've seen the efficiency of these cells progress very quickly both in our labs and in the industry as a whole. It's an exciting time to be a printed electronics company."
Among the many startups in this product area is Solarmer Energy in El Monte, California. The company has obtained exclusive licenses on key patents from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and is developing translucent, flexible and low-cost plastic solar cells which are versatile and esthetically pleasing. Solarmer's Vishal Shrotriya says, "Our novel technology uses conjugated organic polymers as the active material, and as a result, our plastic solar cells have the potential to be lightweight and easy to manufacture on a large scale at a much lower cost than traditional silicon and other thin-film PV cells."
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