NextFlex announced a type of flexible microcontroller that could have big implications for engineers and hobbyists

By Jean-Jacques
DeLisle, contributing writer

 

NextFlex,
America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, recently announced a new type of
flexible microcontroller module that could have big implications for engineers,
prototypers, and hobbyists everywhere. Here’s how this new technology can bring
about many advancements to the rapidly growing realm of Arduino microcontroller
modules.

NextFlex_Arduino_Prototype

NextFlex’s new
technology can bring many advancements to the rapidly growing realm of
microcontrollers. Image source: NextFlex.

 

The
advancement NetFlex has made to Arduinos comes in response to several problems
that have plagued the original open-source microcontroller modules. A
microcontroller is a device with a programmable control chip with various input
and output slots, which can be programmed using a simple code to control other
various devices or read sensors and relay the information to a computer or other
device. Arduinos are open-source modules based on a microcontroller, and they
run on a notoriously easy to learn code, which is making them the extremely
sought after for prototyping new technology. The popularity of Arduinos in the
last few years has grown rapidly with various iterations available, such as the
Arduino mini, but until now they have been limited by certain physical
restrictions. Typical Arduinos are built using standard PCB boards and are
therefore rather rigid and bulky. Due to their exposed electronics, they are
also rather fragile. NextFlex has solved these problems with a new
manufacturing process – flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) — that uses flexible
plastic instead of PCB, and a printed conductive layer allowing the modules to
be fully flexible as well as highly durable.

 

Not
only is this new technology, which happened to be sponsored by the United
States Air Force Research Laboratory (LARF), expected to be useful in many
ways, it’s cheaper and easier to manufacture, cutting the manufacturing steps
by two thirds. “The possibilities for FHE technology are virtually limitless,” said Dr. Benjamin Leever, the AFRL
advanced development team leader, and NextFlex Government Chief Technology
Officer. “Proving the manufacturability of this technology through an
open-source platform will expand FHE’s reach even further by providing everyone
from industrial product developers to high school students with the opportunity
to innovate on new electronics concepts. We are pleased to have teamed with
NextFlex on this project and look forward to the next steps in the optimization
process.”

 

This
advancement could have far-reaching implications for industry, as well as for
the military. “Being able to demonstrate the process manufacturability of a
low-cost, easy-to-deploy and truly flexible platform gives everyone — and by
that, I mean everyone that feeds into
the Arduino open source developer community — the ability to create and speed
to market innovative new products that harness the power of FHE,” Jason Marsh, NextFlex’s director of technology, said. With these new
flexible microcontrollers hitting the market soon there’s no telling what
amazing, new technology we could see in the future, but one thing is for sure:
the march of progress just got a little more spring in its step.