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Arm's 'plastic' chip might power your next smart device

You could have a fitness tracker that bends with your body.

Published onJuly 21, 2021

  • Arm has built and detailed a flexible chip made without using silicon.
  • PlasticArm could power wearable sensors, smart labels and other Internet of Things devices.
  • It’s not powerful enough to power your phone or watch — yet.

It’s easy to find flexible displays in foldable phones and other devices, but what if the processor itself was flexible? That might just happen. Arm has detailed what it says is the first functional Arm processor based on a flexible non-silicon design.

arm flexible plastic chip

PlasticArm, as it’s called, puts metal-oxide thin-film transistor tech on top of a flexible substrate. It’s not strictly a plastic chip, but it’s close. While it’s ‘just’ a 32-bit Cortex-M0 chip with 128 bytes of RAM and 456 bytes of storage, Arm claims its hardware is twelve times more complex than previous flexible electronics — this is a powerhouse in bendable tech.

Arm first showed a flexible PlasticArm chip in 2015, but that was a non-functional design hindered by technical limits at the time. A new manufacturing system and other tech upgrades led to Arm completing the processor in October 2020 — you’re hearing about it now thanks to a research paper.

See also: Arm vs x86 explained

It could be a long while before you see phones or smartwatches based on the flexible Arm chip. They’d need to use more sophisticated 64-bit architectures, for a start. However, there’s still a real chance you’ll see products you can use. Arm envisions wearable health sensors, connected labels, and even smart packaging. Don’t be surprised if you one day buy a truly bendy fitness tracker, or intelligent smartwatch bands that monitor your body in exceptional detail.

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