Material Gains

Alun Morgan

For real-time and predictive interventions, smart patches are in style.

For many of us in the technology sector, markets for high-tech products have remained resilient in the face of the effects of the pandemic. Despite lockdowns and restrictions, businesses are finding innovative ways to continue operating safely. Indeed, some seem to be thriving.

Gartner predicts the wearables market will grow 18% in 2021, reaching $81.5 billion. Ear-worn devices represent almost 50% of this market, with the current strong sales attributed to the WFH trend – as people upgrade from standard headphones for video conferencing – and the latest smartphones that have no 3.5mm jack.

Gartner notes, however, the increasing contribution of smart patches in the wearables space, rising to third in importance as sales of wristbands decline. This technology has ample potential to realize innovations in fields such as medicine and wellbeing that are so far undiscovered.

Bringing together multiple exciting technologies, such as flexible electronic materials, miniature sensors capable of detecting movement and various biomarkers, and micro-needles to deliver medicines when needed, smart patches are already changing healthcare. Conditions such as diabetes can be managed by detecting glucose levels in sweat on the surface of the skin and automatically injecting the appropriate quantity of insulin through an array of micro-needles. Researchers in the UK have considered similar patches to administer coronavirus vaccines.

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Read more: Wearable Technology is Looking Good

Alun Morgan

Are low-loss flex circuit materials an enabler?

Saab may have been first to bring aerospace technologies overtly into the automotive world when it introduced the aerodynamically styled 92 in 1948. The idea proved popular and effective, setting a trend that has made technologies such as infrared vision, radar and heads-up displays common features in today’s vehicles.

The flow of technology and know-how may soon be seen in reverse, as the aviation industry seeks to clean up its environmental credentials. In my last column, I mentioned Airbus’ recent flying achievements with fully electric planes. The company is also experimenting with hybrid platforms powered by a combination of lithium-ion batteries and a range-extending combustion engine, and recently unveiled several new hydrogen-powered concepts.

We can expect technological progress toward larger planes capable of longer flights; the ultimate goal, obviously, is zero-emission planes operating commercially viable services. Key challenges facing battery-powered electric aircraft include compensating for the extra weight of large Li-ion batteries. There are also demands for charging infrastructure and safe solutions to minimize recharging times so operators can turn services around quickly. The automotive industry has experience dealing with these issues and could provide solutions.

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Read more: Zero-Emission Aviation Promises Better Services and Cleaner Skies

Alun Morgan

From autos to airplanes, change is in the air.

2020 has been an unusual and challenging year, although many of us can be thankful for the resilience of high-tech industries. Indeed, activity has surged in some sectors, and generally the outlook is relatively buoyant.

In my other role as president of the EIPC (European Institute for the PCB Community), I moderated the Institute’s Technical Snapshot webinar last November, at which Dr. Shiuh-Kao Chiang of Prismark described how various sectors have fared. While 5G infrastructure rollouts slowed and handset shipments fell about 10%, the PC market has been buoyed by the increase in work-from-home, and certain consumer markets such as wearables and smart appliances have also done well. Overall, he noted a surprising robustness across the electronics, semiconductor and substrate markets.  

The automotive sector has been among the hardest hit, along with conventional commercial aerospace. Rebuilding after the damage to sales caused by the pandemic is just one of the challenges facing vehicle manufacturers right now. They are also contending with the push toward higher levels of driving automation, mandatory smart systems such as autonomous emergency braking, and real-time V2X capabilities, which are expensive to develop. At the same time, governments are signaling their intentions to accelerate electrification, which will require all manufacturers to move their entire product ranges to hybrid-electric or pure battery-EV platforms. The UK government has brought its intended start date forward to 2030. There is no doubt about the urgency, although I am sure at least hybrid-EVs will prove a steppingstone to the kinds of vehicles we use in the future.

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Read more: Today’s Best Technologies are the Roadmap to an Even Better Future

Alun Morgan

Affordable and accessible technologies are the key to global progress.

My smartphone does everything so well I hardly use my tablet or laptop at all. It contains all the apps I need to use every day, is always with me and always connected, and the clarity of the screen makes it a pleasure to handle the majority of computing tasks on this device. I am convinced improvements in display technologies have helped the smartphone become the go-to device for a vast number of daily activities.

To support the best possible experiences in video, photography and gaming, new display technologies continue to emerge to provide seamless, immersive viewing. OLED displays are dominating the smartphone and flat-panel television markets, bringing attributes such as conformability and optical performance, including high contrast ratio with the ability to render true black, which conventional LCDs cannot manage.

But we humans are insatiable by nature. If the color is good, the viewing angle could be a little wider. If the angle is okay, the contrast could be higher. Now, another change is in progress with the arrival of mini-LED backlit LCDs. Containing many thousands of individual mini-LED emitters less than 0.2mm in size, the backlight has many dimmable zones and permits deep black levels, high contrast ratio and high luminance.

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Read more: The 5G Rollout Should be Flying High – Literally
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