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Silicon expert predicts smartphones to get electronic noses in 3-5 years

My phone's got no nose. How does it smell?
Thu Jul 14 2011, 01:19

ELECTRONIC NOSES that can check blood alcohol levels and detect gasses in the air will be coming to smartphones in the next three to five years, delegates at Semicon West were told.

Luc Van den hove, president of nanoelectronics research firm IMEC, said that the technology had now reached the point where the necessary sensors could be built simply and small enough for the technology to be widespread in the smartphone sector.

"It's a logical step," he told The INQUIRER.

"You've already got a lot of sensors in a smartphone and electronic noses are a logical addition. You can already get the devices as an add-on for regular phones."

Within a decade advances in nanoelectronics will make holograms an integral part of modern communications he said. Micro-mirror technology and advanced processors will bring down the cost and increase effectiveness of holographic technology and bring it mainstream.

Plastic processors are also going to become increasingly common. In February scientists demonstrated a plastic processor that could be printed into flexible labelling on foodstuffs or be built into a flexible health monitoring patch that can be worn in hospital. There will be 400 million such medical devices by 2015 he predicted.

"Plastic will never replace silicon, but if you look at these designs and the first microprocessors there are some very real similarities," he told delegates.

It also has the advantage of being relatively cheap, and could play a vital role in the health of people in developing economies, by linking ‘body area networks' into mobile and Wi-Fi access points. There are many more phones than doctors in most of the world he said, and such sensors could significantly help global health.

Overall the industry was in no danger of running up against manufacturing problems for at least the next decade he said. The limits of scaling down traditional transistor technology reached its limit around ten years ago, but advanced materials design and 3D stacking technology were making it possible to get around this.

Intel's tri-gate technology could take up the slack and would be scalable all the way down to 10 nanometres. Beyond that tunnel field-effect transistors (TFETs) were looking very promising, but more work needed to be done he said. High-K metal gate took ten years of research and the learning curve is only getting longer.

Flash memory has a solid roadmap to to scale down to 11 nanometres by 2020, and DRAM technology would go down to 16-20 nanometres within the same time period.

As for networking technology all the pieces are in place for silicon photonics - linking optical pickups directly into the processing heart of computers. Intel has been investing heavily in this technology, which will drastically increase the speed and efficiency of data transfers. µ



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