Researchers target microsystems technology at wearable medical devices

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As part of the EU WiserBAN project, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute of Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin are developing a microsystem designed to make hearing aids small enough to be concealed within the ear.

Measuring 4 x 4 x 1mm, the device is 50 times smaller than the current models for body area network applications. To achieve this, the project partners developed small components, such as antennas, SoC integrated circuitry and high frequency filters. The Fraunhofer IZM team also had to find a way to accommodate all the components involved – 19 in all – in one module. " This was a real challenge as all the components are of varying sizes and thicknesses. But we have managed to arrange all the components in the smallest possible space," said Dr Dionysios Manessis, adding "ideally, patients should not even be aware they are wearing the hearing aid over long periods." The packaging experts also developed a modular 3D stacking concept to save extra space. The project partners are now developing antenna and wireless protocols that will allow information such as pulse, blood pressure or glucose levels to be sent to a doctor's tablet or smartphone, doing away with devices that extend the communication range. According to the team, it is now looking to optimise energy management. Hearing aids worn behind the ear are powered by a 180mAhr battery that needs to be replaced or recharged every two weeks. The aim is to cut the power consumption to around 1mW, extending battery life to to 20 weeks. The technology is expected to enable more reliable healthcare products, including electrocardiography and insulin pumps, and the team believes there is the potential to use the microsystem in implants and pacemakers.