Using silver-based ink, ordinary inkjet printers are laying down circuits on paper, heralding more versatile electronics that hobbyists will thrive on
Circuits laid down on paper by inkjet printers will make electronics more creative and versatile – and easier
"IMAGINE printing out a paper computer and tearing off a corner so someone else can use part of it." So says
Hodges, along with
Kawahara says the idea is perfect for the growing maker movement of inventors and tinkerers. Hobbyists will be able to test circuit designs by simply printing them out and throwing away anything that doesn't work. That will reduce much of electronics to a craft akin to "sewing or origami", he says.
Kawahara and Hodges say the idea also fills a gaping void in the capabilities of 3D printers, which can print the casing for a gadget but not the printed circuits that go inside it. Research on 3D printing conductive elements inside structures has not yet reached a level of sophistication for it to be useful.
"Designing a printed circuit board is not a trivial thing at all. So many people talk about 3D printing an iPhone, when all you can actually do is print a few limited components of one," says
The ink used by Kawahara's team is a silver suspension recently developed by
The moisture sensor the team has printed is meant for use on plants (see picture). It detects rainfall with one circuit and soil humidity with another, transmitting its readings via a printed Wi-Fi antenna. Hodges has printed paper wiring to connect the switch, LED and battery of a 3D-printed flashlight.
In addition, the team has shown off more complex inkjet-printed circuits, with microprocessors and memory chip connectors. In principle, these could be used to create paper-based computers that would continue to work even when broken into smaller pieces. JÜrgen Steimle at the
If silver-based inkjet printing can be made affordable, Hodges says it will be a natural follow-on to Bare Conductive's hand-drawn and paintable circuitry. Kawahara goes further: "In 20 years you really will be able to hit 'Print' and make yourself a mobile phone". n
Bare Conductive is a
Now the firm wants to add audio output to its cards – and future interactive packaging – using a circuit it calls a TouchBoard. The size of a playing card, it features a simple to use Arduino processor and an MP3 chip that plays music, stories and sound effects when someone taps the painted-on, conductive buttons. A Kickstarter campaign to build TouchBoard is about to be launched.
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