IMEC tech conference 2009

The future of solar power lies in reducing the size of the active solar cell, and IMEC has plans afoot to push that envelope with its crystalline silicon technology. With its i2-BC program it expects to go from today’s 15 percent efficiency, to more than 20 percent by 2012. It used its annual press gathering to demonstrate an 18 percent conversion efficiency for silicon solar cells made of BP Solaris newly developed Mono silicon. For more details on solar news from IMEC see our Power Management DesignLine story.

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This tiny device slides into a cloth and Velcro carrier so it can be worn on the chest. It is one of several devices IMEC is designing for body area networks in an effort to bring health care to the home with new monitoring techniques.

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Someday devices such as this heart necklace could become commonplace ways doctors monitor patients with chronic heart conditions over standard cellular and Bluetooth networks. The latest IMEC prototype is not exactly a fashion statement and uses a proprietary 802.15.4 net to conserve power, but it shows the direction such designs must pursue.

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They won’t teach you to tango, but these small monitors can be clamped on to any shoe to monitor in the home a patient’s gate. Currently, patients at risk of debilitating falls go into a clinic for time consuming and costly measurements that fail to take into account daily changes these easy-to-use, low cost monitors are suited to spot.

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An IMEC foil depicted the Holy Grail for many wearable medical monitors, a kind of electronic bandage with small size and weight, and low power consumption built on flexible, even stretchable–substrates. Another huge enabler still on the horizon, dry sensors that capture clear bio-signals without messy conductive gels and the algorithms that filter out the noise from these sensors rubbing against the body when worn in clothes.

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A hydrophobic layer was the breakthrough that enabled this MEMS-based ‘inch-worm’ micro-actuator to be armed with a moving needle for up-close, in-vivo neural recording. The layer maintains package hermeticity using a hydrophobic (Teflon) coating that keeps a bubble of air as a buffer between the MEMS actuator inside and the body fluids outside.

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In association with its research affiliate Holst Centre, IMEC demonstrated a miniaturized wireless eight-channel EEG system for monitoring brain waves. It could potentially allow electrical pulses from the brain to be used to control a wheelchair’s operation. Other apps include ambulatory monitoring of epileptic patients, e-learning and gaming.

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These probes are among several designs IMEC researchers are using to peer into the mysteries of the brain. There are no standards yet in this field, so the geometry of each unique probe design is developed in parallel with the electronics and algorithms that capture and interpret brain signals.

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With its Golden Brain program, IMEC is leading research into bidirectional communication between neurons and electronic systems. By combining three scientific disciplines–physics, chemistry and biology–the scientists hope to further advance applications ranging from biosensors and drug screening, to the treatment of neurological disorders and cerebral-vascular and Alzheimer’s disease.

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No journalists that we know of came to IMEC with solar-powered, RFID-enable baggage, but at least one appreciated the IMEC concept bag that might someday be able to phone home. Who needs those little paper ID tags, anyway?

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Rob Ballizany, chief executive for digital photon counting at Philips Technology in the Eindhoven tech park, shows an integrated CMOS photon detector that holds promise for a wide range of uses in high resolution scientific imaging. His next step: integrating eight of the dice on a single substrate as a prelude to a module that could power ultra high res medical imaging systems. Read the full story here.

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