Have you ever thought of a smart tablet that could be stretched from a mini version to a larger size? Engineers are of the view that it could be a reality in future.

Researchers at Michigan State University have developed what is called the first stretchable integrated circuit by using an inkjet printer. They also suggested that mass production of the smart fabric is a possibility.

Researchers developed a few applications of the stretchable smart fabric in the lab of assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Chuan Wang.

What is the smart fabric? It is made up of several materials from nanomaterials and organic compounds. The compounds are then dissolved into a solution to produce different electronic inks running through the printer to make devices.

"We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electronics comparable to the costs of printing newspapers. Our work could soon lead to printed displays that can easily be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications," Wang said.

Wang's team has created the elastic material, circuit and OLED using ink. The professor estimates it would take a year or two to combine the circuit and OLED in a single pixel. A smart tablet has more than millions of such pixels under the screen.

Stretchable smart tablet
Chuan Wang displays the stretchable electronic material that he and his research team have developed Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University

The smart fabric could be ready for commercialisation only after researchers combine the circuit and OLED into a working pixel.

Wang pointed out that the stretchable electronic fabric can be folded and placed in the pocket, which is an advantage over current flexible electronics material.

"We have created a new technology that is not yet available. And we have taken it one big step beyond the flexible screens that are about to become commercially available," Wang noted.