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Hardware Idle Science

Transistor Made From Cotton Yarn 92

Posted by samzenpus
from the your-socks-want-more-ram dept.
MrSeb writes "Altering the very fabric of technophilic society, a multinational team of material scientists have created electric circuits and transistors out of cotton fibers (abstract). Two kinds of transistor were created: a field-effect transistor (FET), much like the transistors found in your computer's CPU; and an electrochemical transistor, which is similar but capable of switching at lower voltages, and thus better suited for wearable computers. Cotton itself is an insulator, but by using various coatings, the team from Italy, France, and the United States was able to make conductor and semiconductor cotton 'wires' that retained most of their flexibility. The immediate use-cases are clothes with built-in sensors (think radiation or heartbeat monitors), but ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"
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Transistor Made From Cotton Yarn

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  • Punchcards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goombah99 (560566) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:05AM (#38536140)

    One of the first uses of punchcards-- indeed turing's inspirations-- was feeding patterns into looms. Somehow this is satisfyingly full circle in the age of steam punk.

  • Coatings? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:07AM (#38536144)

    If the conductive elements are coatings on the threads, then are they insulated properly? Do you have to put on another layer of insulation? I should imagine that might hurt flexibility.

  • by El Torico (732160) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:08AM (#38536152)

    If I overclock a CPU made from this would it burst into flame?

  • The only logical thing I could think of for that would be one of those "@Home" projects but on a different crowd sourcing scale though even then battery life would suck.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by walkerp1 (523460)

      The only logical thing I could think of for that would be one of those "@Home" projects but on a different crowd sourcing scale though even then battery life would suck.

      Since you're fully integrated into the Matrix, I think battery life represents an entirely different problem.

      • by GaryOlson (737642)

        Since you're fully integrated into the Matrix, I think battery life represents an entirely different problem,

        Simple solution -- beer. Visiting the pub could become a mandatory activity for lunch everyday to recharge. And don't forget dessert!

        • And think of the possibilities! No more working out just to get that desert out of your system. Just calculate pi and that pie is gone.

          • by X3J11 (791922)

            And think of the possibilities! No more working out just to get that desert out of your system. Just calculate pi and that pie is gone.

            Or... just stop eating dirt. Most of us managed that by age 5 or so. Though I do sometimes miss a good old mud pie.

            s/desert/dessert/

    • Well, the wearable computer has long been hailed as a successor to the PDA-style mobile personal computer. Generally this is followed by brain implants, becoming one with the Network, and finally being made out of swarms of nanobots. The futurists would eat up the chance to have holographic augmented reality projected on sunglasses (or one's shirtsleeves) without having to lug around a pocket-filling box.
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        "without having to lug around a pocket-filling box."

        Stop buying old tech. my dual core wearable computer does not fill a pocket and could easily be worn on a belt. plus my latest version runs 2 days on a single charge.
        and glasses? Bah.

        Put the information display on your arm.... http://www.getinpulse.com/ [getinpulse.com] if you want to be less visible, otherwise you can easily strap the whole computer and display on your arm if you want to look more tech oriented.

        Live it now, the tech already exists.

        • I'm somehow wary of stuff that starts with a lowercase i and has a capital letter inside the name.

          Not 'cause it may be bad, but because the company will invariably get sued, probably into bankruptcy. Don't tell me Apple forgot to patent THAT!

    • perfect for (Score:5, Funny)

      by cold fjord (826450) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:24AM (#38536220)

      foldingclothes@home*

      *With apologies [stanford.edu]

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:18AM (#38536192)

    Over the years I've spoken with many electrical engineers and software engineers, and heard much technical lore, but a cotton transistor? That is a yarn worthy of a prize.

  • ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"

    While that's a cute idea... a lot of transistors = a lot of heat.

    Cotton fibers are not particularly known for their ability to tolerate high heat, and neither is human skin.

    • So you mean clothes that would actively keep you warm? It's only a northern thong:)

    • Spreading the number out over a large area dissipates the heat quite well.
      • by mysidia (191772) *

        Spreading the number out over a large area dissipates the heat quite well.

        Unless you have found a way to make electric current exceed the speed of light; a loss of density is also a drop in the amount of computing power and efficiency that can possibly be achieved.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      ultimately, think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!"

      While that's a cute idea... a lot of transistors = a lot of heat.

      Cotton fibers are not particularly known for their ability to tolerate high heat, and neither is human skin.

      This is obviously meant for water cooling. A tasteful way of doing this would be a modified umbrella that supplied the spray.

      Forget military uses; this would stand out in infrared like a weenie roast.

  • The cotton isn't a [semi]conductor, the coatings are. Still novel, though.
    • by emilper (826945)

      yes, extremely novel, they impurified the semiconductor with cellulose ... or is it "they reinforced the semiconductor with cellulose fibers" ... equally novel

  • by Dr Max (1696200) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:39AM (#38536282)
    What happens if you catch your sleeve on a sharp corner, the shirt starts unravelling and your processor is strung across the room? I guess you go to your IT Tailor specialist.
  • by artor3 (1344997) on Friday December 30, 2011 @03:58AM (#38536346)

    From the summary: "think of how many thousands of interconnections are in every piece of cotton clothing — you could make a fairly powerful computer!""

    There aren't that many connections. Assume a 200 thread count fabric, since it's both typical and makes the math easy. That thread count means in each square inch of fabric, you have 100 vertical threads and 100 horizontal, for a total of 10k crossings. To replicate just the old 100 MHz Pentium 1 processor (hardly what anyone would call a powerful computer), you'd need over two square feet of this stuff. If you want something decent, like what you might get in a modern smartphone, you'll need anywhere from ten to a hundred times that much. And remember that it won't run anywhere near the speeds of the IC, and that we haven't even allowed space for all the other essential bits of a computer (e.g. memory). If you want a powerful computer in your shirt, you're much better off sewing something tiny into the hem. Even then, the weight of the battery will be obnoxious.

    Still very cool technology, but I see it being used for simpler distributed systems (like the mentioned sensors) rather than a fabric computer.

    • It depends of the thuckness of your cotton! If you manage to get 35nm cotton threads, you would surely need more than 200 connections and might get a decent woolen computer!
    • by MrSeb (471333)

      There are a lot of square inches of cotton in a t-shirt, you know :) At least 100 square inches! Probably nearer a thousand or more.

    • by lorinc (2470890)
      Plus, I'm doubtful about the robustness of these cotton crossings. It take a single broken thread to break the entire system, which is quiet common with clothes.
    • by MattskEE (925706)

      I wrote up a little section on why wearable organic transistors are not well suited for any real digital computation to add on to your post (longer physical propagation delays, extremely slow FETs, high resistance interconnect, uneven/changing surrounding dielectric environment), but then I read the paper and realized that it's just the poor journalism at ExtremeTech that was talking up that angle. The actual researchers don't mention high power digital circuits like ExtremeTech, in fact the only applicati

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First hardware that's actually well, soft-wear!

  • I didn't read the abstract but it seems like the biggest hurdle with any portable technology is power, more specifically battery life.

    I predicted some 5-10 years ago that battery technology is due for a major advance, but I haven't seen it materialize. Sure, there have been a bunch of studies and experiments, but nothing impressive at the consumer level.

  • Flexible it may be but i think it will still need some sort of insulation on top to avoid short circuits and runs and pulled threads. I cannot imagine it being integrated into a fabric right on top in the open with lasting functionality
    • by Ritchie70 (860516)

      My cat routinely snags new shirts the first day I wear them. Not exactly good in this case.....

  • now, if it stops working you can either eat it... or in the case of cotton, use it to wipe out the mess :)

  • Would have much more serious consequences.
  • by kimvette (919543) on Friday December 30, 2011 @10:36AM (#38538012) Homepage Journal

    In other news, TSA has now announced that in addition to not allowing the wearing of jewelry/accessories which have details vaguely resemble miniscule guns a few mm in length and not allowing the oh-so-dangerous hydrogen hydroxide aboard aircraft, they will also be banning cotton clothing due to recent chatter about the ability to weave dangerous devices into cotton fabric. Full story at 11.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What, no jokes about multi-threading?

  • Ahem, what about the not so insignificant details such as transistor speed, performance, scalability, yield, and reliability?

    To get transistors to the level they're at, they've had to be very carefully shrunk and the silicon carefully controlled for resistance and impurity level, something that these deposited semiconductors will be many, many orders of magnitude worse in each and every parameter.

    There's not a whole lot of point making transistors that are 1,000 times larger, 1,000,000 more power-hungry, ha

  • To use the cloth computer..... Wouldn't you have to catch the shuttle cock 1st? Then you have learn to curve the bullets path also?

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