NUS Engineering secures S$4.9 million in partnerships to develop next-generation hybrid flexible electronics

NUS researchers and partners to co-create innovative solutions for consumer electronics, healthcare, defence and safety surveillance

The National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has established seven new partnerships under its Hybrid-Integrated Flexible Electronic Systems (HiFES) programme to develop next-generation hybrid flexible electronics. These partnerships, valued at about S$4.9 million in total, involve cutting-edge research to develop technologies and devices for applications in areas such as consumer electronics, healthcare, defence and safety surveillance. Leading semiconductor companies such as MediaTek and Soitec, the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research, as well as Temasek Laboratories at NUS and Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at NUS, are among the programme’s new partners. 

NUS Engineering established the S$50 million HiFES programme in October 2016 to pioneer innovations in hybrid flexible electronics, which could potentially reshape the electronics industry. Comprising 16 principal investigators and more than 20 researchers with expertise in diverse areas in electronics and materials, HiFES seeks to create hybrid electronic systems by integrating conventional rigid electronics with flexible and stretchable components for a wide range of new applications that includes wearables, Internet of Things (IoT), remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and e-health.

Professor Aaron Thean, Director of HiFES, said, “As we enter the IoT era, innovative high-value electronics with fast time-to-market will be a key enabler. Leveraging established semiconductor technologies, we believe hybrids of rigid electronics with new soft functional materials will offer an increased palette for technology innovations. We are very excited to work with our new partners to co-create innovative solutions and open up exciting new applications for hybrid flexible technologies. These projects have a strong focus on technology translation and we look forward to developing commercially-ready applications to address real-world challenges.” Prof Thean is a faculty member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering.

Innovative hybrid flexible electronic systems for wide-ranging applications

Researchers from HiFES are currently working with MediaTek to develop a smart, human-wearable interface – in the form of a flexible patch – which can achieve precise matching between wearable devices and the location on the human body through advanced system design. This platform technology can potentially be used for interactive media and gaming, activity tracking and healthcare, as well as human-machine natural interfaces, such as on-skin keyboards.

The collaboration between HiFES and Soitec seeks to explore the use of strained silicon-on-insulator substrate and layer transfer to develop advanced transistors for hybrid flexible electronics and systems. The research could potentially lead to ultra-thin chips – 1,000 times thinner than today’s semiconductor chips – on flexible substrates that can enable next-generation wearable devices. 

Projects with other leading partners involve the development of memristive nanomaterial-based reconfigurable interconnects which can introduce artificial intelligence to flexible electronics, hence enabling machine learning for new wearable medical devices and sensors. Flexible terahertz array sources for safety surveillance and quick detection of chemicals, drugs and explosives are also among some of the exciting material-enabled projects being carried out under the HiFES programme.

NUS researchers under the programme are also collaborating with the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research to investigate the impact of thermal effects and mechanical stress on the radio frequency performance of flexible transmit and receive modules. This is an important problem to solve for antennas and radar systems, especially when the devices are made flexible. Research collaboration between HiFES and Temasek Laboratories at NUS will also investigate novel phased array antennas on flexible substrates to enhance wireless communication and remote sensing systems.

World-class facility to pioneer disruptive technologies

NUS is currently constructing a new state-of-the-art nanofabrication facility to serve as a research platform to foster greater collaboration between multi-disciplinary research groups from within the University as well as industry and research partners. Equipped with advanced process and material characterisation capabilities, the new facility will enable integration of semiconductor and additive-based processes like precision 3D printing, and packaging, for new technology prototyping. This new facility is expected to be operational by June 2018.

“This world-class facility, when fully operational, will accelerate the development of disruptive, cutting-edge applications in hybrid flexible electronics. We are keen to collaborate with more companies to bring novel technologies to market,” Prof Thean added. 

For more information on HiFES, please visit: http://hifes.nus.edu.sg/.