Ambient Light, Body Heat Power IMEC Wireless EEG System

In the framework of Holst Centre, IMEC has developed a battery-free wireless 2-channel EEG system (electroencephalography or monitoring of brain waves) powered by a hybrid power supply using body heat and ambient light. The hybrid power supply combines a thermoelectric generator that uses the heat dissipated from a person’s temples and silicon photovoltaic cells. The entire system is wearable and integrated into a device resembling headphones. The system can provide more than 1mW on average indoor, which is more than enough for the targeted application.

IMEC's wearable wireless EEG system with hybrid power supplyThermoelectric generators using body heat typically show a drop in generated power when the ambient temperature is in range of the body temperature. Especially outside, the photovoltaic cells in the hybrid system counter this energy drop and ensure a continuous power generation. Moreover, they serve as part of the radiators for the thermoelectric generator, which are required to obtain high efficiency.

Compared to a previous EEG demonstrator developed within Holst Centre, which was solely powered by thermoelectric generators positioned on the forehead, the hybrid system has a reduced size and weight. Combined with full autonomous operation, no maintenance and an acceptable low heat flow from the head, it further increases the patient’s autonomy and quality of life. Potential applications are detection of imbalance between the two halves of the brain, detection of certain kinds of brain trauma and monitoring of brain activity.

The system is a tangible demonstrator of Holst Centre’s Human++ program researching healthcare, lifestyle and sport applications of body area networks. Future research targets further reduction of the power consumption of the different system components of the body area network as well as a significant reduction of the production cost by using micromachining. Interested parties can get more insight in this research or license the underlying technologies through membership of the program.

Technical details
The thermoelectric generator is composed of six thermoelectric units made up from miniature commercial thermopiles. Each of the two radiators, on left and right sides of the head, has an external area of 4×8cm² that is made of high-efficiency Si photovoltaic cells. Further, thermally conductive comb-type structures (so-called thermal shunts) have been used to eliminate the thermal barrier between the skin and the thermopiles that is caused by the person’s hair on the thermoelectric generator.

The EEG system uses IMEC’s proprietary ultra-low-power biopotential readout application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to extract high-quality EEG signals with micro-power consumption. A low-power digital-signal processing block encodes the extracted EEG data, which are sent to a PC via a 2.4GHz wireless radio link. The whole system consumes only 0.8mW, well below the power produced to provide full autonomy.

About Holst Centre
Holst Centre is rapidly evolving into an internationally recognized center for open innovation in technologies for wireless autonomous sensor-based microsystems and systems-in-foil. Holst Centre was established in 2005 by the Flemish research centre for nanoelectronics and nanotechnology IMEC and the Dutch research institute TNO. From the start, it is financially supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and can count on the approval of the Flemish Government. Located on the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, Holst Centre can benefit from the state-of-the art on-site facilities. Holst Centre has over 100 employees (growing to over 200 by 2010) and a network of close to 20 industrial partners.

About IMEC
IMEC is a world-leading independent research center in nanoelectronics and nanotechnology. Its research focuses on the next generations of chips and systems, and on the enabling technologies for ambient intelligence. IMEC’s research bridges the gap between fundamental research at universities and technology development in industry. Its unique balance of processing and system know-how, intellectual property portfolio, state-of-the-art infrastructure and its strong network of companies, universities and research institutes worldwide position IMEC as a key partner for shaping technologies for future systems. IMEC vzw is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, has a sister company in the Netherlands, IMEC-NL, concentrating on wireless autonomous transducer solutions, and has representatives in the US, China, Japan and Taiwan. Its staff of more than 1600 people includes more than 500 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2007, its revenue (P&L) is estimated at about EUR 235 million.