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A new generation of products is emerging based on low cost printed electronics with embedded silicon ICs and sensors. By eliminating the need for rigid enclosures, flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) will reduce system footprints with devices that conform to most 3D surfaces so they can be mounted in difficult-to-access spaces. Now, the first-ever functional samples of flexible Arduino circuit board systems made by employing a flexible electronics manufacturing process has been developed.

The project was led by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), with NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute, also on the team.

NextFlex has been formed in response to the rapidly expanding field of Flexible Hybrid Electronics. Established in 2015 through a cooperative agreement between the US Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. Manufacturing of FHE.

The research findings, say the AFRL team, set the stage for smart technologies used for the internet of things and sensor applications including wearable devices.

Arduinos are microcontrollers that are programmable through open-source software. Whereas commercial electronics typically include proprietary microcontrollers, anyone can prototype an electronic device using Arduinos. The form factor of electronic devices, say the AFRL team, is often limited by traditional microcontrollers, which are fragile and rigid in design, which complicates integration with newer devices that may be flexible or curved in design, such as a smartwatch, or located in a difficult-to-access place, like a fuel tank sensor.

The flexible Arduino can help users make rapid innovations in flexible and wearable devices for military applications that could include monitoring hydration status, glucose levels, heart rate, and more, according to

While developing the flexible hybrid device, the NextFlex team reduced the number of manufacturing process steps by more than 60 percent and the weight of the circuit by 98 percent, which increases the possibilities for design applications.

The team maintained the high-performance level of a traditional microcontroller circuit through the combination of surface-mounted and printed features.