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EETE MAY 2014

Google safeguards future wearable IP with smart lens patents By Julien Happich On the 15th of April, US-based Google fans were granted the privilege to exchange $1500 for a “pair” of Google Glass. But the search engine giant would not want to miss on future miniaturization opportunities. Last month, the Patent Bolt website revealed the company’s patent application for contact lenses with an integrated camera system, controlled by the wearer through unique blinking patterns. The patent is wide encompassing, describing a multi-sensor contact lens computer system that may work with many future wearable devices and other consumer electronics. While a number of companies and research centres work on smart lenses with integrated health monitoring sensors, displays or optical to electrical stimuli conversion concepts (via external video capture and processing for visual interpretation), Google bets on yet to come integration breakthroughs with a rather open-ended patent application to safeguard as much wearable IP as possible. The components are certainly not ready for building a thinfilm camera to be embedded within a contact lens, nor the specific actuators or sensors that would interpret blinking patterns and process it locally, but the on-going research in flexible electronics and printable circuits promises that someday, it may be possible to combine all the relevant building blocks for such a smart device. Trying to bulk itself up, the patent somehow states the obvious, that the building blocks would be positioned in visually non-obstructive areas of the lens (around the pupil). The camera component would be aligned so as to track and generate image data corresponding to the gaze of the wearer, following any shift in gaze. Then the patent extends on what could be done with such a lens-mounted camera, from merely detecting light (what looks more like current state-of-the-art printed flexible electronics), to identifying colours or performing plain face recognition or any other video processing task. The sensors that would be integrated on such smart lenses could be just anything the company would see fit, including energy harvesters. Google may not have the IP to build the actual sensing blocks, but if this patent was ever granted, it would somehow prevent any company with the suitable technologies to strike a deal with competing smart lens developers, or at least it would shrink their marketable options. I suppose that’s ok to have Google as a licensee, except if the company’s patented smart lenses are only a strategy to give more life to its current Google Glass while preventing agile startups and research lab spin-offs from coming up with better alternatives. Holst Centre and Imec shrink wearable health patch By Julien Happich Relying on system in package (SiP) technology from industry partner Shinko Electric Industries, Holst Centre and imec have built a flexible health patch demonstrator whose electronic module measures only 17.4x17.4mm and weighs just 10g, only half the weight of alternative solutions. The patch logs real-time electrocardiogram (ECG), tissuecontact impedance and accelerometer information to accurately monitor physical activity. Following the trend in wearable activity monitors and fitness electronic devices that compute the calories you burn, the research centers have packed a 1-lead ECG, a tissue-contact impedance sensor and a 3D accelerometer. All the sensor data is processed and analyzed locally through proprietary calibrated algorithms before relevant information is transmitted via a Bluetooth Smart link to a smartphone or another connected unit. All this is done on a minimal energy budget. The demonstrator was run on a rechargeable 15mAh battery from partner Solicore, told us Chris Van Hoof, program director for wearable healthcare at imec. The algorithms used to process the sensor data locally are able to recognize the type of activity, he explained, which minimizes wireless data transfers and power consumption. “When we processed the data from all sensors locally only to send relevant activity information, then the patch operated two days in a row without recharge. But if we had all the sensors streaming raw data over Bluetooth, the same battery only lasted two hours” Van Hoof clarified. “If you only send knowledge to the application running on the smartphone, then you make huge power savings”, he concluded. The electronic module is integrated into a flexible and stretchable patch designed by Holst Centre, combining system in foil technology with stretchable, integrated electrodes to create a lightweight patch that can be worn comfortably on the chest for extended periods. Ideally, the patch would be integrated into a skin-breathable fabric or into clothing. The patch was developed in the framework of imec’s and Holst Centre’s joint Human++ program. Both research centers are prospecting for partners interested in industrializing the concept. www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe May 2014 7


EETE MAY 2014
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