SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s time for engineers to get printed electronics out of the lab and dream up new products using their capabilities, according to an expert following the field. A handful of companies including Qualcomm are starting to do just that said Raghu Das, chief executive of IDTechEx who will host an annual event on the topic here this month.
Printed electronics “has been a long time coming, it’s long been embryonic…but now companies realize they have to make new products not replace existing ones,” said Das. “There’s an element of creative product design needed to make it take off, the capability is there…but there’s a lack of clarity on what products people will want,” he added.
At this year’s event, Qualcomm will show a printed electronics label that will gather data from a golf club to deliver feedback on a player’s game to his smartphone. Thin-film battery maker Blue Spark Technologies will show a child’s bandage that can deliver temperature information to a parent’s handset, and another company will show a vest that uses printed electronics to send information about a baby’s respiration and sleep.
“There will be a stream of products like this,” said Das who oversees a team 20 of tech analysts.
A growing set of government-sponsored tech centers aim to accelerate the field, including a $165 million center formed in Silicon Valley earlier this year. “There’s quite a big gap between what a company can demo and what is reproducible in volume — that gap can be 3-5 years in some cases,” said Das.
The U.S. is to some extent playing catch up. “The European Union alone has spent about 200 million euros in printed electronics technology in addition to funding from national programs,” Das said.
Indeed the United Kingdom has spent about $70 million on its Center for Process Innovation, Canada has spent about $40 million on a center in Ottawa and other national efforts are running in Sweden, France and several Asian countries, Das said.
The Silicon Valley event includes sessions and exhibits on a range of related topics including wearables, energy harvesting and 3-D printing. One company aims to show a 3-D printer that can create a printed circuit board.
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