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USAF leads development of flexible hybrid electronics

12 March 2018

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has partnered with NextFlex to develop the first functional samples of flexible Arduino circuit boards that could be integrated into sensor systems that are curved, such as wearable devices.

Flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) are essential in the development of new systems that could be used to access challenging spaces such as fuel tanks, or to monitor the structural integrity of aircraft through embedded sensors. FHE technology could also be used to perform real-time assessment of the health and performance of airmen, according to AFRL.An AFRL-NextFlex project has led to the development of a new flexible Arduino circuit board system that takes advantage of flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing processes. (NextFlex)An AFRL-NextFlex project has led to the development of a new flexible Arduino circuit board system that takes advantage of flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing processes. (NextFlex)

“The possibilities for FHE technology are virtually limitless,” Dr Benjamin Leever, the AFRL Advanced Development team leader and NextFlex government chief technology officer, said in a statement. “Proving the manufacturability of this technology through an open-source platform will expand FHE’s reach even further by providing everyone … the opportunity to innovate on new electronics concepts.”

Arduinos are microcontrollers, or integrated circuits (IC), that are programmable through open-source software. While commercial electronics typically include proprietary microcontrollers, Arduinos can be used by anyone to rapidly prototype an electronic device, according to AFRL

FHE devices combine the flexibility and low cost of printed plastic film substrates with the performance of semiconductor devices to create a new category of electronics, according to NextFlex, which is a co-operative agreement between the US Department of Defense and the FlexTech Alliance.

FHEs are difficult to produce as industry standards do not currently exist, Dr Abby Juhl, research scientist and programme manager at AFRL, told Jane’s .

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