HomeNewsArticle Display

AFRL, NextFlex leverage open-source community to create flexible circuit system

Flexible hybrid electronics manufactured Arduino circuit

An Air Force Research Laboratory-led project in conjunction with NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute, has led to the development of a new, flexible Arduino circuit board system that takes advantage of flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing processes. (Photo courtesy of NextFlex)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- Lightweight, low-cost and flexible electronic systems are the key to next-generation smart technologies for military as well as consumer and commercial applications.
  
An Air Force Research Laboratory-led project in conjunction with NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute, has resulted in the first ever, functional samples of flexible Arduino circuit board systems made by using a flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing process, setting the stage for smart technologies for the internet of things and sensor applications like wearable devices.

“The possibilities for FHE (flexible hybrid electronics) technology are virtually limitless,” said Dr. Benjamin Leever, AFRL Advanced Development Team leader and NextFlex government chief technology officer. “Proving the manufacturability of this technology through an open-source platform will expand FHE’s reach even further by providing everyone from industrial product developers, to high school students, the opportunity to innovate on new electronics concepts.”

Arduinos are microcontrollers, or integrated circuits, that are programmable through open-source software. Whereas commercial electronics typically include proprietary microcontrollers, Arduinos can be used by anyone to quickly prototype an electronic device.

The form factor of electronic devices is often limited by traditional microcontrollers, which are fragile and rigid in design, complicating their integration with newer devices that may be flexible or curved in design, such as a smartwatch, or located in a difficult-to-access place, like a fuel tank sensor. The flexible Arduino can enable rapid innovation in flexible and wearable devices for applications including monitoring hydration status, glucose levels, heartrate and more.

In the process of developing the flexible hybrid device, the NextFlex team reduced the number of manufacturing process steps by more than 60 percent and the weight of the circuit by 98 percent, ultimately increasing the possibilities for design applications. This was achieved by replacing the traditional circuit board with a thin, flexible plastic sheet, eliminating the traditional microcontroller packaging, and implementing digital printing processes for circuit elements. The high performance of a traditional microcontroller circuit is maintained through this combination of surface-mounted and printed features.
  
"As we look to innovation from non-traditional sources, the flex Arduino can enable inventors inside and outside the Air Force to quickly demonstrate new flexible electronics concepts,” said Leever. “Moreover, the FHE manufacturing processes demonstrated by NextFlex in this project will be transformational for a number of Air Force applications. This technology may enable us to monitor the structural integrity of aircraft through sensors embedded in the wings or similarly monitor the real-time performance and health of an Airman through flexible sensor patches.”

For the Air Force, leveraging the knowledge of the open source community, such as that inherent in Arduino, helps accelerate innovation, enabling new technologies with tremendous potential for the Air Force. The NextFlex institute plays a key role in this innovation process and is a valuable asset for the Department of Defense and industry alike.

“We are pleased to have teamed with NextFlex on this project and look forward to the next steps in the optimization process,” said Leever. “This is truly a momentous achievement for the FHE community.”

The new Arduino system will be demonstrated by the NextFlex team at the 2018FLEX Conference in Monterey, California, Feb. 12 to 14, 2018. A working prototype will be on display in conjunction with a board plugged into a tester.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
#DYK: @Norad_Northcom is responsible for tracking every flight over the U.S. and #Canada. They’re so serious about… https://t.co/OkzBo0t2hR
RT @DeptofDefense: Projecting lethality from the air! Fly along with the crew of this #AC130 gunship and see why they call these @USAirFor
The #AirForce & its mission partners successfully launched Space Test Program Satellite 5, or STPSat-5, into orbit… https://t.co/cDd9Mqlk67
The 24th #AirForce #TotalForce #Airmen are responsible for delivering full-spectrum, global cyberspace capabilities… https://t.co/8YsqClWENw
The #F35A is a fifth-generation fighter combining advanced aerodynamics, survivability in high-threat environments… https://t.co/W2nlfOWHGg
Competition builds camaraderie. @TeamMisawa #Airmen partnered with local Japanese community members to forge frien… https://t.co/2RvP9tXnN9
.@jointbasemdl takes the first step & starts construction of the two-bay hangar that will hold the new #KC46 Pegasu… https://t.co/cT0G8DlXPd
The 2018 hurricane season was an active one for @53rdWRS! @USAFReserve #HurricaneHunters flew more than 655 hours a… https://t.co/x1PKaI6fuJ
That 2:30 feeling got you down? #refuel with this video:#NKAWTG https://t.co/v527caBovi
It's time for #WIP! Take a look at what #Airmen are doing across the #USAF: https://t.co/eWobDEAVY3 https://t.co/yD9lZqAsib
RT @AusAirForce: TOUCHDOWN! Our F-35A Joint Strike Fighter jets A35-009 and A35-010 have arrived at their new home RAAF Base Williamtown. T…
RT @DeptofDefense: Meet the @USAirForce’s youngest pilot! Quinn Cogan poses in front of an #A10 fighter jet. (No, he didn’t fly it!) But he…
Let's get pumped for this new week like these two @AFSpecOpsCmd #Airmen who have a chance to compete for a spot in… https://t.co/1iVWUMiqrc
#ICYMI: U.S. #Airmen & #Soldiers worked to restore middle schools & high schools damaged during #SuperTyphoonYutu.… https://t.co/1YyYMzRNCO
#USAF SSgt Stephon Sharief, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, works to refuel an #F15 during exercise Ste… https://t.co/FVySNhxPqz
.@AF_Academy senior Mariana Murphy performs a layout step out on the balance beam during the USAFA Blue Silver Meet… https://t.co/zwmPmBbFUf
We are saddened to hear of the passing of Wilfred Defour, a #TuskegeeAirman. We send thoughts of consolation to his… https://t.co/WDDUtUfHLg
RT @DeptofDefense: A view from the cockpit! Fly along with this @48FighterWing #F15 pilot as the @USAirForce 🇺🇸 and #UK’s @RoyalAirForce 🇬🇧…
#USAF medics from the 51st Medical Group joined the Center for the Sustainment of Trauma & Readiness Skills medical… https://t.co/bDYawsDW5h
Can you see in the dark? In this #photo, training is conducted at Melrose Air Force Range, New Mexico during Emera… https://t.co/vYjameEBlA