Since it was first introduced to the world in 2005, Arduino has become the go-to tool for makers. It filled a particularly glaring hole in the market for an easy-to-use, inexpensive, and open-source means for hobbyists to use microcontrollers in their projects. Over the years, various Arduino models have been released in all sorts of sizes and form factors, with a wide variety of features.
One thing all Arduino boards have in common, however, is that they’re rigid. That’s also true of pretty much every other electronic device on the market that uses a PCB. But, that may change soon, as the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), in partnership with NextFlex, have created the first flexible Arduino-based development board.
They chose to base the prototype on an Arduino because it’s open-source, popular, and well-documented. Their innovation is both in the flexible substrate that the circuit is printed on, as well as the manufacturing processes used to build a circuit on it. While that substrate, and the traces printed on it, are flexible, the actual components appear to be traditional rigid SMDs.
The military is interested in this development for the same reason you should be: it dramatically expands the use cases for Arduinos and electronics in general. Flexibility in the overall circuit means it can more readily be used for wearables, or fit into non-uniform spaces. This is a proof concept showing the manufacturing process is practical, which means you might soon have a flexible Arduino in your own hands.
UPDATE: The Arduino team recently paid a visit to NextFlex’s headquarters in San Jose, CA. You can read about their experience here.