Xerox has developed a silver ink that makes it possible to use an ordinary inkjet printer to print electrical circuits on paper, plastic or cloth.

Using the new Xerox ink, you could have a circuit board in your clothes, turning them into a giant battery. You could literally recharge your iPod on the cuff. The new ink could also be used for “smart” pill boxes that track how much medication a patient has taken, or flexible displays that roll up.

The technology does not require the expensive clean-rooms used for silicon chip manufacturing. Furthermore, the ink is formulated so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity, the company says. The ink is already available for testing by outside parties, so if you know anyone at Xerox, try getting on the sample list. We want some too. The lab that developed the ink is at Xerox, Canada.

electronic-clothingThis kind of thing sounds like science fiction but in fact is getting much closer to reality than we think.  Just this past January, a Rice University graduate student developed a method of transferring circuits to any material using carbon nanotubes. Once the first circuit is laid out, it can be transferred much like using a rubber stamp.

As far back as 2006, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, along with colleagues at the University of Oulu in Finland, developed a method of printing circuits on clear plastic sheets, using an ordinary desktop printer. The process also works with paper or cloth.

The technique could be used to print optical tags on money and other paper items that need to be tracked, and it could even lead to an electronic newspaper where the text can be updated without changing the paper. The researchers printed different samples, some of which show sensitivity to the vapors of several chemicals, which also could make them useful as gas sensors.

In general if you look at new developments in science and technology that change manufacturing in a fundamental way, there is a lag of anywhere from 10 to 30 years before the change enters common usage. Carbon nanotube production, for example, is expensive and requires careful control. The Xerox silver ink method would be much cheaper and should lead to faster product development.

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