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Matthew Dyson: Hello and welcome to this talk on technologies for ubiquitous electronics. My name is Dr. Matthew Dyson and I’m a senior technology analyst at I.D Tech X. Just before we get started, I just like to give you a very brief introduction to Electric X.

So we provide technical market research on a wide range of emerging technologies covering things like energy harvesting, electric vehicles, 56G printed electronics and many more. So just to get started, I’d like to sort of start by asking what is ubiquitous electronics? And essentially, this is an idea that many, many things around us will be connected to the Internet and have electronic functionality. So you might already have heard of this discussed with phrases like Internet of Things or even industrial Internet of Things.

But ubiquitous electronics goes slightly beyond that and asks, okay, well, not only are we going to put electronics into various, say, household devices like we might with Internet of Things, but we might also have them in buildings, in roads or even on our bodies. Basically, everywhere around us will become wirelessly connected with sensing capability. So why might we want to do all of that?

Well, the advantage of this is that it would enable things like predictive maintenance. For example, if you had a house or an office, you can see the example on the slide here where there was a leak occurring in the walls. You could have sensors in there that would detect the first appearance of moisture and then you’d be able to issue some kind of alert.

The plumber could come rain and fix it before it became a problem. You could have a factory and the machine starts vibrating a little bit more than usual. Again, that would alert somebody to come and fix the problem before it became serious enough to shut down the whole production line. If you had a smart city, you know, that could be issues with roads or plant or pipes or pollution. And all of this can feed in all this information can feed into some sort of centralised database and people. And then you could end up allocating resources more appropriately, rooting traffic, making repairs and matching up supply chains to demand more effectively all kinds of benefits. And so if we just take a look at this picture, here’s a sort of typical office. And so we just imagine all of the opportunities for electronics in that office.

We were already completely familiar with having smartphones and obviously computers. But how about checking the air quality or the humidity level in there? What about plants that water themselves automatically? What about floors that track people where they walk around and so they can determine occupancy levels, particularly appropriate with COVID or that too many people in a room without any privacy concerns. They can check that you’re sitting comfortably to ensure you’re not going to get any back pain for sitting in the same posture too long or something like that.

So there’s all kinds of opportunities to integrate electronics into our everyday environment. The question is, how do we go about doing this? And that’s where these low-cost prints and flexible sentences come in. If you want the electronics to be ubiquitous, they obviously need to be cheap. And ideally, you want them to be small and compact enough that you can install them pretty much anywhere. So here’s just a selection of examples from various companies and organisations on this slide, showing the kind of things, some kind of sensing capabilities that you might not be aware of. Things like pressure sensors that are thin, films that you can put under the floor, temperature sensors that you can put around a car battery to monitor whether that battery is getting overheated or it needs warming up. And you could even put them around windows. And then check is that you can monitor the progress of the healing by seeing the amount of additional blood flow.

There’s printed electrodes that you can attach to yourself to monitor your heart rate. That it you could do these studies at home rather than having to go into the doctors or the hospital to get your done. Vibration sensors that are thin that you could just stick on to industrial equipment to monitor the vibration levels and even gas sensors that are flexible. There’s an example here of one that was just a prototype at this stage, but you could attach it to a deodorant can that would even give you a score as to how much deodorant should you be using based on some sensing.

And of course, you can combine all of these functionalities as I’m showing at the top, right, with this multimodal sensor. And so you could imagine a world where you just have sort of stickers with loads of settings and capabilities that would also contain batteries or some kind of energy harvesting method, and also antennas to communicate to the Internet via Bluetooth or wi-fi. And then we’d be able to record information about press force temperature, strain, humidity, all kinds of things pretty much from anywhere extremely affordably. So if we take a closer look at some sort of specific examples there, we then get to electronic skin patches for continuous health care monitoring. And there’s a huge amount of excitement about these at the moment, particularly in light of COVID with health services worldwide are sort of somewhat overburdened trying to get through that backlog.

If patients are able to be monitored at home, that’s good for them. They don’t have to waste time going to doctors or the hospital. And it’s obviously good for the health, health service or health care providers as well. And so the basic idea with these is that you can do continuous monitoring with some kind of skin patch. And at the moment you can see an over on the right of the slide. There’s an example of what’s already being used in some Belgian hospitals where all of the electronics are in a little box, but like a matchbox that contains a circuit board and the battery. But the rest of the actual electrodes that are spaced out in this case to monitor EKGs or brain activity are overall flexible.

But over time, the technology will progress and ultimately will end up with something very much more like a kind of tattoo. And so this is a sort of example from a university in the States. down at the bottom where you can imagine something like these children’s tattoos will transfer, all the electronic functionality would be in there and you’d barely know you had it on. And that would be able to supply all kinds of information temperature, heart rate, monitor your sweat, all kinds of stuff to your phone, and then ultimately send that off to your doctor. And then, you know, they’d let you know if there are any issues or if you’re recovering from operation if you had to go back in or something like that in an incredibly unobtrusive fashion. So of course, if you’re going to put electronics everywhere, you know, sustainability is a significant concern. You know, we don’t want to be sort of polluting the world and contributing to the huge amount of electronic waste by covering everything in electronics and say this various approaches to try and make trying get all of these benefits that I’ve described from having both people and cars and packaging and households and all these devices around us connected to the Internet with sense and capability, but keeping it sustainable. And so that can be achieved in sort of various ways. People are looking at things like putting electronics onto paper rather than onto plastic or rigid circuit board substrates. There are batteries that are entirely biodegradable.

So these kind of toxic little coin cell batteries that are a pain to dispose of, you know, you have to theoretically dispose of them properly. You can get rid of those, have something that’s completely biodegradable. You can use copper inks rather than other metals because copper will break down much more quickly if it’s discarded. And so the idea here is that you could, for example, take some packaging on any product you get at the supermarket and just put the electronics straight onto the packaging. And it doesn’t need to be plastic packaging. It could be paper or card packaging, and you could still get the electronics in there. So this idea that you know, there’s no way that this can happen because there’ll be too much electronic waste simply isn’t really true.

There’s a lot of effort going into making electronics sustainable and also sort of smaller and more compact so that there’s less waste in general. So just to finish up with a slide to show this kind of adoption roadmap for the different technologies that I sort of describes, you go through. Of course, RFID tags are perhaps an everyday example of ubiquitous electronics. You know, we’ve all got these in our smart, smart cards that we used to get on the cheap or use the bank or whatever.

That’s completely standard. And they’re also in many items of clothing so that shops can keep track of inventory and they’re completely established. And the various other technologies there are obviously at different stages. And I think it’s particularly important to point out is the amount of emphasis and interest at the moment that’s going into these electronic skin patches. It’s a huge amount of investment going into these and I think they could well become kind of pretty widespread within the next few years. And indeed some examples are already being used.

So everything that I’ve spoken about today within the ubiquitous electronic world, this idea that electronic skin is becoming increasingly widespread and all of the technologies needed for that can all be found in a selection of the market research reports from covering things like printed and flexible sensors, smart cities, Etextiles, skin patches. There are many others on subjects like smart packaging. And so if you’re interested in any of those, please do get in touch or feel free to contact me directly. Thanks very much for your attention.