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Georgia Tech and NextFlex Team-Up to Make the Internet-of-Things More Flexible & Power Efficient

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is changing the way people interact with everything around them. Networked IoT, through its hardware and software, offers the potential to affect positive change in everyday life by enabling real-time decision making process. Better decisions offer opportunities for behavioral and systems changes that can yield improvements in nearly every aspect of our lives; from how we exercise and entertain, how we communicate with others, what we eat and drink, how we learn and travel, how we receive healthcare, and how we interact with our house, cars, appliances, and other inanimate entities  

With billions of connected devices, and several more billions to come in the next few years, the opportunities are endless.  With such a dramatic growth, the devices need to be low-cost, preferably self-powered, low power-consuming, wirelessly connectible, reliable, mass producible, customizable, easily accessible and usable, lightweight, and also be able to conform to the surface of the object to which they are attached.  This conformality then drives the need for flexible electronics, changing the world of electronics from one of being flat and stiff to one which is bendable and stretchable. This paradigm shift in electronics, driven by the shape of things-to come drives the need for Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE).

With these grand challenges in mind, Prof. Suresh Sitaraman from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN) , Georgia Tech hosted, in conjunction with NextFlex, the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a workshop that focused on expert presentations of state-of-the-art, along with the  defining a technical roadmap targeting on the power aspects of FHE device, called “Powering the Internet of Everything”.

The workshop, attended by nearly 90 Government, Industry, and Academic experts was held in the Marcus Nanotechnology Building on November 6 – 8, 2017. The three-day event included invited talks, roadmapping, a student technical poster session, and guided tours of principal research and shared user laboratories where FHE related research, micro/nano fabrication and microanalysis occur on the GT campus. Labs visited included mechanical and electrical testing, modeling and characterization; additive and 3D printing; device packaging; soft robotics and exoskeleton; organic photonics and electronics; and the IEN micro/nano fabrication and microscopy laboratories, to name a few. Workshop attendees were able to get up a close up view to the interesting FHE projects in which students and faculty are engaged. At each stop in the tour students demonstrated their work and answered questions about their programs, from flexible batteries for IOT to robotic human augmentation exoskeletons, FHE-enabled wearables and human-machine interfaces, and more.  Of greatest interest to the participants were those technologies that had already been demonstrated in the GT labs and which are ready for prototyping and pilot scale manufacturing.

Technical sessions included; Power and Energy Systems Needs, Energy Harvesting Strategies, Energy Storage Strategies, Power Management Strategies, and Ultra-Low Power Electronics/Sensors. Speakers were drawn from both government and private sectors, as well as academia. Speakers included participation from AT&T, IBM, NIH, Naval Surface Warfare Center, the Office of Naval Research, PARC, Silniva, Air Force Research Lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Blue Spark Technologies, Analog Devices, Texas Instruments, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Following the technical sessions, the Marcus Nanotechnology Building Atrium space filled to capacity for an evening reception and competitive student poster and demo session. With over 35 FHE projects on display, the judging team consisting of industry and government experts was challenged with determining the best posters based on the content, clarity and organization, and overall presentation. After the scores were tallied, it was announced that there was a three-way tie for first place, a second place winner, and a tie for third, with all of them winning monetary awards.

Below is a list of the winning poster titles and authors:

Tied for 1st

“Toward all-soft and fully-integrated microsystems: vertically integrated physical and chemical microsystems using gallium-based liquid metal and soft lithography”, Min-gu Kim and Prof. Oliver Brand

“Novel Architectures for Polymer Thermoelectric Devices for Energy Harvesting”, Akanksha Menon, Kiarash Gordiz, and Prof. Shannon Yee

“Soft, Fluidic Modulation of Skin Temperature”, Donald J. Ward, Nil Z. Gurel, Prof. Omer T. Inan, and Frank L. Hammond

2nd Place

“Self-powered Wide-frequency Flexible Triboelectric (SWIFT) Microphone”, N. Arora, S. L. Zhang, M. Gupta, F. Shahmiri, D. Osorio, Y. Wang, Z. Wang, C. Zhang, T. Starner, B. Boots, ZL Wang, G. D. Abowd

Tied for 3rd

“Mm-wave Ultra-Long-Range Energy-Autonomous Printed RFID      Van-Atta Wireless Gas Sensors: at the Crossroads of 5G and IoT”, Jimmy Hester and Prof. Manos Tentzeris

“Sensorized Pneumatic Muscles for Force and Stiffness Control”, Lucas O. Tiziani, Thomas W. Cahoon, and Frank L. Hammond III


About FHE at Georgia Tech:
Led by Prof. Suresh Sitaraman, the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, more than 30  researchers at Georgia Tech are involved in projects involving flexible electronics from the School of Mechanical Engineering, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the School of Materials Science and Engineering, the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering, the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. Several interdisciplinary research institutes at Georgia Tech are also involved in the projects, including the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute, and the Institute for Materials.  The Office of Industry Collaboration and the College of Engineering are also actively engaged.

About NextFlex:
Formed in 2015 through a cooperative agreement between the US Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. Manufacturing of FHE. By adding electronics to new and unique materials that are part of our everyday lives in conjunction with the power of silicon ICs to create conformable and stretchable smart products, FHE is ushering in an era of “electronics on everything” and advancing the efficiency of our world.

- Christa M. Ernst