As the name suggests, emerging technologies are the ones whose development and practical applications are widely unrealized. They represent progressive development in various fields, ranging from robotics and artificial intelligence to cognitive science and nanotechnology.
The branch of electronics, in particular, plays a crucial role in signal processing, information processing, and telecommunication. It deals with electrical circuits that involve components like sensors, diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits. In simple language, it covers complex electronic instruments and systems such as modern laptops and smartphones.
The first type of transistor was invented in 1947. Since then, we have come a long way. The smartphone you are using today alone contains more than one billion transistors.
This is just the beginning. Many revolutionary devices are yet to be invented. Let’s find out what the future could bring us (in the field of electronics).
12. Digital scent technology
Aroma shooter presented at CEATEC 2016
A lot of research has been going on in the field of olfactory technology, which enables devices (or electronic noses) to sense, transfer and receive scent-enabled media such as audio, video, and web pages.
The first odor-releasing system named Smell-O-Vision was invented in the late 1950s. It was capable of emitting odor during the projection of a movie to enhance the experience of viewers.
Since then many research facilities have come up with similar devices. One of them was iSmell developed in 1999. It consisted of a 128-odors cartridge from which various mixed odors can be produced. However, due to certain limitations, the product was never commercially launched.
At CEATEC 2016, a company introduced a wearable scent device that can be controlled via smartphones and PCs. It still has many hurdles to overcome, including the timing and distribution of scents and the health risks of synthetic odors.
11. Thermal Copper Pillar Bump
Electrical and thermal bumps integrated on a single substrate
The thermal copper pillar bump is a micro-size thermoelectric device used for the packaging of electronics and optoelectronics, such as laser diodes, semiconductor optical amplifiers, CPU and GPU.
Nextreme Thermal Solutions developed this technology in order to integrate active thermal management functionality at the chip level. The method is now used by tech giants, including Intel and Amkor, to connect microprocessors and other advanced chips to various surfaces.
When current passes through a circuit board, the thermal bump pulls the heat and transfers it to the other bump. This process is known as Peltier effect and this is how a thermal bump helps in reducing heat from electronic circuits.
It acts as solid-state heat pumps and adds thermal management functionality on the chip’s surface. Today’s thermal bumps are about 20 μm high and 238 μm wide (diameter). The next-generation technology would bring down the height of thermal bumps to 10 μm.
10. Molybdenum Disulfide
Molybdenum disulfide (MoS2)
Molybdenum Disulfide is an inorganic compound that is widely used in electronics as a dry lubricant because of its low friction and robustness. Like silicon, it’s a diamagnetic, indirect bandgap semiconductor with a bandgap of 1.23 eV.
Molybdenum disulfide is a common dry lubricant with particle sizes in the range of 1-100 micrometers. It is often used in the production of efficient transistors, photodetectors, two-stroke engines, and universal joints.
In 2017, a two-dimensional Molybdenum disulfide was used to build a 1-bit microprocessor containing 115 transistors. It has also been used to create 3-terminal memtransistors. In the coming years, this compound could be the backbone of all kinds of electronic gadgets.
Electronic textiles (or smart clothing) are fabrics embedded with digital components and electronics to provide added value to the wearer. There are many other applications that rely on integrating electronics into fabrics, such as interior design technologies.
This type of technology is considered revolutionary because it has the ability to do several things that conventional fabrics cannot, including conduct energy, communicate, transform and grow.
Future applications for smart clothing may be developed for health monitoring, tracking soldiers, and monitoring pilot. Personal and portable physiological monitoring, communications, heating, and lighting can all benefit from this technology.
Spintronics (or spin electronics) refers to the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment in solid-state physics. It is far different than conventional electronics: along with charge state, electron spins are used in order to increase the degree of freedom.
Spintronic systems can be used for efficiently storing and transferring data. These devices are of particular interesting in the field of neuromorphic computing and quantum computing.
The technology is also being used in the medical field (to identify cancer) and holds great promises for digital electronics.
7. Nanoelectromechanical System
Electron micrograph of Nanoelectromechanical system fabricated in single-crystal silicon | Credit: H. G. Craighead
The nanoelectromechanical system integrates nano-size electronics elements with mechanical machines to form physical and chemical sensors. They form the logical next miniaturization step from so-called microelectromechanical systems.
They have incredible properties, which pave the way to various applications, ranging from ultrahigh-frequency resonators to chemical and biological sensors. Following are the few crucial attributes of nanoelectromechanical systems –
- Fundamental frequencies in the microwave range
- Active mass in the femtogram range
- Mass sensitivity up to attogram and subattogram levels
- Force sensitivity at the attonewton level
- Power consumption in the order of 10 aw.
- Extreme high integration level, reaching one trillion elements per square centimeter.
6. Molecular Electronics
An illustration of the single-molecule device
As the name suggests, molecular electronics uses molecules as the primary building block for electronic circuitry. It is an interdisciplinary field that spans materials science, chemistry, and physics.
This technology will enable the development of much smaller electronic circuits (at nanoscales) that is currently possible using traditional semiconductors like silicon. In such devices, the electron’s motion is governed by quantum mechanics.
Although entire circuits consisting exclusively of molecular-sized elements are very far from being realized, the growing demand for more computing power and limitations of today’s lithographic techniques make the transition seem unavoidable.
Scientists are currently working on molecules with intriguing characteristics in order to achieve reproducible and reliable contacts between the molecular segments and the bulk material of the electrodes.
5. Electronic Nose
An electronic nose identifies certain components of an odor and analyzes its chemical makeup. It contains a mechanism for chemical detection, including an array of electronic sensors and artificial intelligence tools for pattern recognition.
Such devices have been around for more than two decades but have typically been expensive and bulky. Researchers are trying to make these devices less expensive, smaller, and more sensitive.
Electronic nose instruments are used by research facilities, production departments and quality control laboratories for various purposes, such as detection of contamination, spoilage, and adulteration. They are also used in medical diagnosis and detection of gas leaks and pollutants for environmental protection.
4. 3D Biometrics
The use of biometric information is increasing year-by-year, especially in fields related to banking, forensics, and public security. Most of the biometric recognition uses two-dimensional images.
However, a few advanced biometric techniques have been developed in the last few couples of years. This includes 3D fingerprint, 3D palmprint, 3D ear, and 3D face recognition techniques.
Be it for purposes of human-computer interaction or enhanced security, there will be a wide application to robust biometrics.
3. Electronic Skin and Tongue
A wine tasting electronic tongue | Credit: Kenny McMahon / Washington State University
The stretchable, flexible, and self-healing materials that can mimic the features of animal or human skin are called electronic skin. There is a wide range of materials that respond to changes in pressure and heat and are capable of measuring information via physical interaction.
Those materials could open new doors to useful applications, such as prosthetics, soft robotics, health monitoring, and artificial intelligence. The future designs of new electronic skins would include materials with high mechanical strength, better sensing ability, recyclability, and self-healing properties.
An electronic tongue, on the other hand, measures and compares tastes. It contains multiple sensors, each has a different spectrum of reaction, capable of detecting organic and inorganic compounds.
Electronic tongues have applications in various fields, ranging from the food and beverage sector to the pharmaceutical industry. It is also used to benchmark target products and monitor environmental parameters.
The concept of memristors was introduced by an American electrical engineer Leon Chua in 1971. He inferred the possibility of an additional nonlinear circuit element linking magnetic flux and charge.
Every electronic circuit is made up of passive components such as inductors, capacitors, and resistors. There is a fourth component called memristor – these are semiconductors used to create low power consuming storage devices.
A memristor regulates the current flow in a circuit while remembering the amount of charge that has previously flowed through it. Memristors are non-volatile components that have very high storage as well as speed.
Memristors’ patents include applications in signal processing, brain-computer interfaces, reconfigurable computing, programmable logic, and neural networks. In the future, these devices can be applied to carry out digital logic with the implication in its place of NAND gate.
1. Flexible Display
Royole: Super-thin flexible display | Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat
Many consumer electronics manufacturers are showing interest in flexible displays: they are working to apply this technology in smartphones and tablets.
OLEDs based on a flexible substrate (either metal, plastic or glass) are one of the most promising electronic visual displays that can be bent. The metal and glass panels used in flexible OLEDs are very thin, light, durable and virtually shatter-proof.
At CES 2018, LG introduced the first prototype of a 65-inch 4K OLED display that’s rollable. The TV unrolls at the touch of a button and then retracts from view when not needed.
In September 2019, Samsung launched a new foldable smartphone that can be used as both a tablet and a smartphone.
The current-generation foldable devices have many flaws and are too expensive. Most of them are proof of concept devices for early adopters rather than a device suited for the mass market. However, it’s clear that flexible displays are evolving into something very different, which may lead to astonishing developments across the tech industry.