The University of Southampton

Researchers develop design tool to help inspire flexible electronics for smart everyday objects

Published: 8 January 2019
PragmatIC flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) introduce electronics into everyday objects.

Electronics experts at the University of Southampton are collaborating on a design tool that could help introduce interactivity into everyday objects such as smart packaging.

Researchers in the Sustainable Electronic Technologies Group are working with industrial partner PragmatIC to devise a Process Design Kit (PDK) that will expand the potential for its mass market uses of flexible electronics.

PragmatIC create ultra low cost flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) thinner than a human hair that can be embedded into everyday objects. The technology enables concepts like smart packaging, which can personalise product information and promotional offers, and interactive toys that can track moving pieces and dynamically change rules during play.

The new PDK at Southampton is being tailored to be used with industry-standard tools, making the new technology available to a wider community of designers for future applications.

Project lead Professor Mark Zwolinski says: “We have been researching, developing and using Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools for many years in the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and this project benefits from over 30 years of expertise that includes student projects and design exercises. We are excited to be working with PragmatIC on this promising technology and look forward to seeing creative uses of its FlexICs in smart everyday objects in homes around the world.”

The collaborative project, known as a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) and which is supported by InnovateUK, will make use of design tools that are already used in teaching and research in IC design within ECS. PragmatIC and ECS have worked together on several objectives in recent years, with this latest venture being sparked by joint work with tech giant Arm.

“Over the next three years we will develop a prototype PDK, together with examples of cells and applications such as cryptographic elements,” Mark says. “This knowledge transfer partnership offers a valuable opportunity for ECS to demonstrate real-world impact from our research, while our industrial partner benefits from access to the University’s expertise.”

PragmatIC VP Device Engineering, Dr Catherine Ramsdale, says: “PragmatIC is pleased to be collaborating with ECS at the University of Southampton through the KTP scheme. The prototype PDK developed through the project applies the ECS school’s world-leading design flow expertise to PragmatIC’s innovative flexible transistor technology, ultimately making FlexIC design more easily accessible to the wider design community. We are looking forward to developing our relationship with Southampton through this mutually beneficial partnership.”

Design Engineer Dr Waqas Mughal, KTP Associate for the project, says: “I am very pleased to be part of such a great collaborative project between ECS, PragmatIC and InnovateUK through this KTP programme. The process design kit will help the design community in making FlexIC design effortlessly. The KTP project is supporting me to improve my research and personal development and gives me an opportunity to learn new skills. In addition, there is a lot of support available for project completion. Overall, I am very excited about the development of a FlexIC PDK.’’

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