Here is a report on a company called T-Ink Inc. which is printing conductive ink, and making simple circuits on paper and plastic. So far they are limited to being fairly simple sensors or control circuits. But there is a lot more coming in very cheap-to-fab electronics (and “very cheap” means very cheap as the microprocessor chips in most home appliances and toys are already down in the 20 cent range, so we’re talking way sub penny prices here for a processor). The September 18 issue of Nature had a story, a box report, and a scientific paper about self assembly of nano-wires and how these can produce thin film transistors on cheap plastic substrates rather than expensive silicon crystals. Conductive ink and self assembling nano-wires are two examples of how the price of electronics may come down significantly for embedded applications. When a disposable newspaper is also a computer, or when a shirt has a million networked computers embedded in it, the way we interact with all our artifacts is going to change drastically. RFIDs attached to every product we buy a few years from now are just the barest beginning of how things might change. A couple of decades from now your clothes may be reading the weather reports wirelessly, and getting predictions of the local micro-climate (extrapolated from observations sent in by all the bricks in buildings in a two mile radius) and changing their micro-fabric characteristics to handle an incoming rain squall.
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