Back in 2015, ARM's CTO Mike Muller had wowed ARM TechCon's attendees with a fully flexible ARM1 SoC designed at a 3µm node on plastic, sporting about 25k transistors.
Talking about the progress realized since then, White noted that after a low-end Cortex-M SoC iteration with a footprint of roughly 8 cm2, PragmatIC's latest layout of the SoC had shrunk further to 1cm2, and the company is now moving to a new plastic process node with new design rules which the CEO is confident will further reduce the device's footprint.
Referring to the process node roadmap flashed by Muller at ARM's TechCon, White says PragmatIC is in line with the tentative plastic roadmap, roughly halving the devices' footprint every year, somewhat faster than the equivalent Moore's law for silicon.
But the CEO doesn't expect the Moore's law analogy to last very long. "We'll reach a plateau where our technology will be suited for the realization of lower-end MCUs or below. Driving the Cortex-M project was more of an R&D challenge to see how far we could push the technology, but there are very few practical packaging applications today that would require a full 32-bit SoC and where it would make economic sense".
"The types of circuits we aim for are in the region of a few thousand gates to add intelligence into high volume fast moving consumer goods, then in the next few years 10,000 gates may become a sweet spot for us, in applications where flexibility is a key product benefit" White added.
But MCUs and conventional SoCs may not necessarily be the workhorses of plastic electronics as they have been in the silicon industry. ARM is an investor in PragmatIC and is also the lead development partner on the PlasticARMPit project initiated last October together with consumer goods giant Unilever and the University of Manchester. In the Innovate UK-funded project description, the partners aim for the design of highly energy-efficient processing engines for flexible sensors, targeting specific sensor data for which plain flexible MCUs are unlikely to meet the necessary computational needs.