The future is flexible
Jun 4, 2014
Sometimes, it feels as if the future has already arrived. That is the case with electronics that can bend and flex, leading to applications such as sensors that can conform to clothing and skin. This short film takes you inside the headquarters of one of the most exciting companies in this emerging technology area: a spin-off firm called MC10 based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One of the company co-founders is John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is a pioneer in the field of flexible electronics. In the film, Rogers talks about how his interest in the field emerged from the observation that all known forms of biology are soft, elastic and curvilinear, whereas existing forms of electronics are rigid, planar and brittle. "As a result, if you want to integrate electronics with biology – with human skin or tissue – you have severe challenges in a mechanics mismatch and a geometrical form mismatch," he says.
Rogers describes how MC10 has overcome this limitation by developing a printing process that allows electronic devices to be built on rigid wafers before being removed in thin formats and then printed onto rubber substrates. This innovation enables the company to develop professional and consumer products based on integrated electronics that can flex and reshape in a range of different environments.
The film looks at one of the company's most high-profile products: the Reebok CHECKLIGHT, which was developed in partnership with the consumer sports giant that also has it global headquarters in Massachusetts. It is essentially a type of skullcap that combines an accelerometer with a gyroscope to measure the magnitude and danger of impacts to the head. One of the problems, particularly with sports such as American football, is that there tends to be something of a hero culture whereby players will respond to head collisions by saying "I'm fine, coach", even if they are not. The CHECKLIGHT is designed to provide an objective assessment of the impact to the head in that scenario.
Also featuring in the film is Benjamin Schlatka, MC10's vice-president of business development. He talks about how the company came into existence in 2008 having begun as research in a science laboratory. "[John Rogers] had a connection with an investor, an entrepreneur, here in the Boston area that was a connector to two of the other co-founders."