Smart polymers set to be the next silicon revolution

Tom Shelley reports on the explosion in electrically and electronically active materials, and where this looks to be taking us


According to high tech venture capital guru Dr Hermann Hauser, speaking at the recent Venturefest event in Oxford, British developments in polymer-based electronics and displays have the potential to put the UK ahead in a revolution that he believes will be at least as big as silicon.

Not for nothing did Professor Richard Friend, the founder of Plastic Logic, the subject of Eureka's August 2003 cover story, receive a knighthood on this years Queen's birthday honours list.

ElekSen, another totally home-grown enterprise specialising in Fabric Keyboards and other electronic interfaces, the subject of Eureka's February 2000 cover story, has now reached the point of producing commercial products. ElekSen's Tim Pearce writes: "Our first commercial product launch was with Logitech, licensing them a combination soft keyboard/case for Palm branded PDA's. More recently we have launched through Orange an accessory keyboard, or what we call a "SoftTexter" for the Orange SPV smartphone. We have other such soft texters in the pipeline too, together with projects evolving in the automotive and healthcare sectors."

Cranch Lamble at Plastic Logic writes: "On the commercial side of things, the second closing of our first fundraising occurred in November and building work on our new labs and clean rooms began in January 2003 and will be completed shortly. On the technical side of things, we have focused on developing our technology for use in display applications. We have used our inkjet printed plastic electronics technology to produce active matrix backplanes for liquid crystal displays in collaboration with Gyricon, a Xerox spin-off. We've now produced the world's first Electronic Paper display with a printed plastic electronic active matrix backplane. On the non-display side of things, we've produced ring oscillators, various logic gates and are printing metal for interconnect lines. Our focus over the next six to twelve months will be to scale the displays and processes to target first products while also developing the technology further for other display applications and more general electronic/logic applications."

Also in Cambridge, Cambridge Display Technologies continues to go from strength to strength with its light emitting polymers, as does competitor Elam-T.

In a different sphere of Smart materials, those inspired by nature and the subject of Eureka's April 2002 cover story, Professor George Jeronimidis at Reading University continues to lead research investigations. A conference on latest developments in 'Biomimetics' is scheduled for Friday, September 26that Reading. Paper titles include: "What we can learn from the structure and properties of seashells" by Dr. Stephen Eichorn at UMIST, "Development of a vibration driven endoscopic device" by Professor Picasso from the University of Cagliari and "Flexible reflectors in animals", by Victoria Welch from Oxford University.

Plastic Logic
Cambridge Display Technology
University of Reading Centre for Biomimetics


* Keyboards made using electrically responsive fabrics have now reached the market place

* Inkjet printable electronic circuitry continues to attract investment and looks increasingly attractive commercially as do light emitting polymer displays

* Smart materials inspired by nature continue to be researched

Tom Shelley

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