Low-cost actuators could work with many materials


Flick Pixel system uses the current in the tracks of a PCB to activate a simple open-loop control system

The engineer behind a low-cost, ultra-thin actuator that can be applied to almost any material is looking for backing to commericalise the technology.

Instead of using conventional electromagnets, the Flick Pixel system developed by Andrew Fentem uses the current in the tracks of a PCB to activate a simple open-loop control system. 

The electronics could be printed cheaply enough using the latest manufacturing methods to be competitive with alternative displays, such as LEDs, said Fentem.

Fentem said: “Flick Pixels move away from the old-school flip data displays, where the disc rotates through a plane. It’s evolved from an idea I had 10 years ago, when I built a few systems that moved objects on a table using current-controlled magnetic fields. But they were incredibly cumbersome and expensive. 

“I started Flick Pixels with the constraint that they would need to be cheap enough to be manufactured competitively with the alternatives.”

Fentem is working with the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large-Area Electronics in Cambridge, which will develop the low-cost printing processes for the system if “there is interest from the market”, he said.

He added that the system could be applied to any material, including metals and plastic, although the most interest in prototypes so far has been from designers interested in integrating it with fabrics for displays and wallpaper. The Flick Pixels have so far been used to display data, such as social media messages and animated patterns.

“It could be commercialised now, as a kit for people to make their own displays or as a ready-made product, but my aim is to get enough traction to develop manufacturing processes.”




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