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February 28, 2012

New 'Green' Medical Devices Using Batteries That Run Longer, on Less Energy, Yet Perform Just as Well, on the Horizon

The “green” movement is everywhere. Green houses. Green cars. Now green medical devices?

The real benefit is that these new devices could save lots of energy while still performing the same functions as before.

Texas Instruments has announced it’s working with manufacturers of medical devices and sports accessories to create some of these new types of energy-efficient products, according to an executive at the company, as reported in a story by Sinead Carew.

How the company plans to do this is through new microcontrollers -- tiny chips that are currently embedded in just about everything we use, from industrial equipment to toys, according to Carew. And the beauty of these is that they eat up “half as much power as existing chips, according to Scott Roller, vice president of TI's microcontroller business,” Carew writes.

This has huge implications for the battery life of electronic devices, Roller said, who told Carew he expects “the Wolverine-branded chips to be broadly available in June for customer tests and produced in volume by TI in the first quarter of 2013.” Making batteries more energy-efficient can allow them to run longer and use less energy while still performing the same functions,

Exercise apps and sports equipment currently out there allow smartphone users to track their heart rate and rhythm while running or jogging, and doctors to monitor patients’ heart rates remotely.

Carew reports that one company trying out the chips plans to install built-in pedometers in sports shoes to record how far the wearer runs or bikes. “Because the pedometer would be so energy-efficient it could generate all the power it needs from the user's kinetic energy,” Carew said Roller told her.

"The amount of energy created from walking is so small no (pedometer) today can run on this," Roller told Reuters, Carew writes, adding that the device could potentially work for more than 10 years.

Jim McGregor, a chip analyst with technology research firm In-Stat, told Carew that “reducing power needs will be key to the future of advanced electronic devices because the more functions a device can perform, the faster it will drain its battery.”

"Unfortunately, battery technology is not keeping pace with semiconductor technology," McGregor told Carew. "So, to be able to produce devices that can provide this level of functionality with 10-20 years battery life is overcoming many of the limitations of the battery technology."

One application being developed by a medical device company is a thin patch that’s a wearable glucose monitor that could continuously measure the user's blood-sugar levels. Carew writes that, unlike older monitors, “which require the patient to draw blood for each reading,” now they have to use their smartphone “to scan the patch to download all the measurements that have been taken since the last scan,” McGregor said.

Other applications out there that use chips to monitor blood glucose wirelessly are contact lenses.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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