Saturday, November 10, 2012

How improved batteries will make electric vehicles competitive

How improved batteries will make electric vehicles competitive

How improved batteries will make electric vehicles competitive

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 05:10 AM PST

Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are expensive. Cheaper batteries could eventually change that. (Credit: Tennen-Gas/Wikimedia Commons)

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to compete with gas-powered cars, battery prices need to drop by between 50 and 80 percent, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Improvements to the lithium-ion batteries that power the current generation of electric vehicles may be enough, MIT Technology Review reports.

Electric vehicles cost less to operate than gas-powered ones, but that economic advantage largely disappears in the face of expensive batteries. The battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt costs about $8,000. The larger battery in the Nissan Leaf costs about $12,000.

But the cost for the Leaf battery could drop to under $4,000 by 2025, according to a recent study by McKinsey, just by increasing the scale of battery production, forcing down component costs through competition, and approximately doubling the energy density of batteries, which reduces materials costs.

One startup, Envia Systems, has already built prototype lithium-ion battery cells that store about twice that of the best conventional lithium-ion batteries and can be recharged hundreds of times (see "A Big Jump in Battery Capacity" and "Should the Government Support Applied Research?"). And crucially, it's similar enough to conventional lithium-ion batteries that it can be made on existing manufacturing equipment. The technology still needs work, and could take several years to start appearing in cars, the company says.

Not everyone agrees that lithium-ion batteries can reach the low costs needed for electric vehicles to compete with gas-powered ones (see "A123's Technology Just Wasn't Good Enough"). Toyota, for one, is investigating more dramatic changes in battery design. One type it's developing replaces the liquid electrolyte in a conventional lithium-ion battery with a solid material, something that allows for a number of changes in the battery design that could shrink the system and lower the cost. These solid-state batteries and other technologies could cut the size of a battery pack by 80 percent, according to Toyota. Sakti3, a startup with close ties to GM, is also developing solid-state batteries, and recently started shipping prototype batteries to potential customers for testing, says CEO Ann Marie Sastry (see "Solid-State Batteries").

24M, an early-stage startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is taking a different approach — rather than an all-solid battery, the company is developing a cross between a battery and a fuel cell in which the battery electrodes are a sludgy liquid that can be pumped around. The energy storage material could be stored in inexpensive tanks, and then pumped into a small device to generate power (see "A Car Battery at Half the Price").

Despite the novel designs, solid-state batteries and 24M's technology still operate with a familiar lithium-ion chemistry, which could make them less risky to commercialize than more radical approaches that move beyond the lithium-ion chemistry. But these new batteries have theoretical energy densities several times that of today's electric car batteries.


Iran warplane fired at US drone in early November

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 05:04 AM PST

MQ-1 Predator drone (credit: USAF)

An Iranian warplane opened fire on an unarmed U.S. military drone conducting surveillance near Iranian airspace Nov. 1, the Pentagon said Thursday, the first such incident over the Persian Gulf and one that is all but certain to draw attention to Washington's use of unmanned aircraft, The Washington Post reports.

The MQ-1 Predator drone returned to its base unscathed, even as the Iranian aircraft chased it away from the Islamic Republic's borders, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday, disclosing details of an incident that the Obama administration chose to keep quiet during the final stretch of the presidential campaign.

The Nov. 1 incident happened at 4:50 a.m. Eastern time, approximately 16 miles from the Iranian coastline, Little said. Under international law, national sovereignty extends for 12 nautical miles.


New stem-cell-derived cells hold promise for Alzheimer’s, other brain diseases

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 04:53 AM PST

Choroid plexus epithelial cells generated in a culture medium using embryonic stem cells
 (credit: Edwin S. Monuki and Momoko Watanabe/USPTO)

UC Irvine researchers have created a new stem cell-derived cell type with unique promise for treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Dr. Edwin Monuki of UCI's Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and colleagues developed these cells — called choroid plexus epithelial cells (CPECs) — from existing mouse and human embryonic stem cell lines.

CPECs are critical for proper functioning of the choroid plexus, the tissue in the brain that produces cerebrospinal fluid (CSF ).  CPECs make CSF and remove metabolic waste and foreign substances from the fluid and brain, among other tasks.

In neurodegenerative diseases, the choroid plexus and CPECs age prematurely, resulting in reduced CSF formation and decreased ability to flush out the plaque-forming proteins that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's. Transplant studies have provided proof of concept for CPEC-based therapies. However, such therapies have been hindered by the inability to expand or generate CPECs in culture.

"Our method is promising, because for the first time we can use stem cells to create large amounts of these epithelial cells, which could be utilized in different ways to treat neurodegenerative diseases," said Monuki, an associate professor of pathology & laboratory medicine and developmental & cell biology at UCI.

To create the new cells, Monuki and his colleagues coaxed embryonic stem cells to differentiate into immature neural stem cells. They then developed the immature cells into CPECs capable of being delivered to a patient's choroid plexus.

These cells could be part of neurodegenerative disease treatments in at least three ways, Monuki said. First, they're able to increase the production of CSF to help flush out plaque-causing proteins from brain tissue and limit disease progression. Second, CPEC "superpumps" could be designed to transport high levels of therapeutic compounds to the CSF, brain and spinal cord. Third, these cells can be used to screen and optimize drugs that improve choroid plexus function.

Monuki said the next steps are to develop an effective drug screening system and to conduct proof-of-concept studies to see how these CPECs affect the brain in mouse models of Huntington's, Alzheimer's and pediatric diseases.

The study as supported by the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, UCI's Institute for Clinical & Translational Science, and UCI's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Stronger than a speeding bullet, but lighter

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 04:08 AM PST


This electron-microscope image of a cross-section of a layered polymer shows the crater left by an impacting glass bead, and the deformation of the previously even, parallel lines of the layered structure as a result of the impact. In this test, the layered material was edge-on to the impact. Comparative tests showed that when the projectile hit head-on, the material was able to resist the impact much more effectively. (Credit: Thomas Lab, Rice University)

While traditional shields have been made of bulky materials such as steel, body armor made of lightweight material such as Kevlar has shown that thickness and weight are not necessary for absorbing the energy of impacts.

Now, a new study by researchers at MIT and Rice University has shown that even lighter materials may be capable of doing the job just as effectively.

The key is to use composites made of two or more materials whose stiffness and flexibility are structured in very specific ways — such as in alternating layers just a few nanometers thick. The research team produced miniature high-speed projectiles and measured the effects they had on the impact-absorbing material.

The results of the research are reported in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper co-authored by former postdoc Jae-Hwang Lee, now a research scientist at Rice; postdoc Markus Retsch; graduate student Jonathan Singer; Edwin Thomas, a former MIT professor who is now at Rice; graduate student David Veysset; former graduate student Gagan Saini; former postdoc Thomas Pezeril, now on the faculty at Université du Maine, in Le Mans, France; and chemistry professor Keith Nelson. The experimental work was conducted at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.



The researchers developed a self-assembling polymer with a layer-cake structure: rubbery layers, which provide resilience, alternating with glassy layers, which provide strength. They then developed a method for shooting glass beads at the material at high speed by using a laser pulse to rapidly evaporate a layer of material just below its surface.

Though the beads were tiny — just millionths of a meter in diameter — they were still hundreds of times larger than the layers of the polymer they impacted: big enough to simulate impacts by larger objects, such as bullets, but small enough so the effects of the impacts could be studied in detail using an electron microscope.

Seeing the layers

Structured polymer composites have previously been tested for possible impact-protection applications. But nobody had found a way to study exactly how they work — so there was no way to systematically search for improved combinations of materials.

The new techniques developed by the MIT and Rice researchers could provide such a method. Their work could accelerate progress on materials for applications in body and vehicle armor; shielding to protect satellites from micrometeorite impacts; and coatings for jet engine turbine blades to protect from high-speed impacts by sand or ice particles.

The methods the team developed for producing laboratory-scale high-speed impacts, and for measuring the impacts' effects in a precise way, "can be an extremely useful quantitative tool for the development of protective nanomaterials," says Jae-Hwang Lee, now a research scientist at Rice, the lead author of the paper, who did much of this research while in MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our work presents some valuable insights to understand the contribution" of the nanoscale structure to the way such materials absorb an impact, he says.

Because the layered material has such a predictable, ordered structure, the effects of the impacts are easily quantified by observing distortions in cross-section. "If you want to test out how ordered systems will behave," Singer says, "this is the perfect structure for testing."

The work was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office.

Discovery may help nerve regeneration in spinal injury

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST


Video (credit: University of Liverpool)

Scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow have discovered a possible new method of enhancing nerve repair in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

It is known that scar tissue, which forms following spinal cord injury, creates an impenetrable barrier to nerve regeneration, leading to the irreversible paralysis associated with spinal injuries. The scientists found that long-chain sugars, called heparan sulfates, play a significant role in the process of scar formation in cell models in the laboratory.

Scarring results from the activation, change in shape, and stiffening of astrocyte cells, Chthe major nerve support cells in the spinal cord.  One possible way to repair nerve damage is transplantation of support cells from peripheral nerves, called Schwann cells.  The team, however, found that these cells secrete heparan sulfate sugars, which promote scarring reactions and could reduce the effectiveness of nerve repair.

"We found that some sugar types promote scarring reaction, but remarkably other types, which can be chemically produced in the laboratory by modifying heparin, can prevent this in our cell models," Professor Jerry Turnbull, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology"Studies in animal cells are now needed, but the exciting thing about this work is that it could, in the future, provide a way of developing treatments for improving nerve repair in patients, using the body's own Schwann cells, supplemented with specific sugars."

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Congenitally blind learn to see and read with soundscapes

Congenitally blind learn to see and read with soundscapes

Congenitally blind learn to see and read with soundscapes

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 03:26 AM PST

Example of seeing an object with sound (credit: Striem-Amit et al./Neuron)

Congenitally blind people have learned to "see" and describe objects, and even identify letters and words, by using a visual-to-auditory sensory-substitution algorithm and sensory substitution devices (SSDs), scientists at Hebrew University and in France have 

SSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones.

The images are converted into "soundscapes," using an algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera. The blind participants using this device reach a level of visual acuity technically surpassing the criterion of the World Health Organization (WHO) for blindness.

The study shows that following 70 hours of unique training developed in the Amedi lab, the blind people could easily use SSDs to characterize images into object categories, such as images of faces, houses, body shapes, everyday objects and textures. They could also identify even more complex everyday objects — locating people's positions, identifying facial expressions, and even reading letters and words (for demos, movies and further information:

The Hebrew University study also tested what happens in the brain when the blind learn to see with sounds. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the neural activity of people blind from birth as they "saw" — using the SSD — high-resolution images of letters, faces, houses, everyday objects and body-shapes.

(Credit: Striem-Amit et al./Neuron)

Surprisingly, not only was their visual cortex activated by the sounds, their brain showed selectivity for visual categories that characterize the normally developing, sighted brain.

A specific part of the brain, known as the Visual Word Form Area, or VWFA — first discovered in sighted people by Profs. Laurent Cohen and Stanislas Dehaene of Pitie-Salpétriere Hospital-INSERM-CEA, of France, co-authors of the current article — is normally very selective.

In sighted people, it has a role in reading, and is activated by seeing and reading letters more than by any other visual object category. This was also found in this area in people deprived of sight. Their VWFA, after only tens of hours of training in SSD use, showed more activation for letters than for any of the other visual categories tested.

In fact, the VWFA was so plastic to change, that it showed increased activation for SSD letters after less than two hours of training by one of the study participants.

"The adult brain is more flexible that we thought," says Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at Hebrew University. This and other recent research from various groups have also demonstrated that multiple brain areas are not specific to their input sense (vision, audition or touch), but rather to the task, or computation they perform.

All of this suggests that in the blind, brain areas might potentially be "awakened" to processing visual properties and tasks even after years or maybe even lifelong blindness, if the proper technologies and training approaches are used, says Amedi.

The findings also give hope that reintroduced input into the visual centers of the blind brain could potentially restore vision, and that SSDs might be useful for visual rehabilitation.

"SSDs might help blind or visually-impaired individuals learn to process complex images, as done in this study, or they might be used as sensory interpreters that provide high-resolution, supportive, synchronous input to a visual signal arriving from an external device such as bionic eyes," says Prof. Amedi.

A challenge facing designers of future computer chips

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 05:43 AM PST

The total conductance per unit area is similar for both tungsten (W) and gold (Au). However, by joining the two highly conducting metals, one finds a conductance density that is about 4 times lower of either material individually. (Credit: David J. Olivera et al./PNAS)

To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Researchers at at McGill University General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current could be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics.

As feature sizes in future chips shrink to the level of atoms, the resistance to current no longer increases at a consistent rate as devices shrink; instead the resistance "jumps around," displaying the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics, says McGill Physics professor Peter Grütter.

"You could use the analogy of a water hose," Grütter explains. "If you keep the water pressure constant, less water comes out as you reduce the diameter of the hose. But if you were to shrink the hose to the size of a straw just two or three atoms in diameter, the outflow would no longer decline at a rate proportional to the hose cross-sectional area; it would vary in a quantized ('jumpy') way."

This "quantum weirdness" is exactly what the McGill and General Motors researchers observed. The researchers investigated an ultra-small contact between gold and tungsten, two metals currently used in combination in computer chips to connect different functional components of a device.

On the experimental side of the research, Prof. Grütter's lab used advanced microscopy techniques to image a tungsten probe and gold surface with atomic precision, and to bring them together mechanically in a precisely-controlled manner. The electrical current through the resulting contact was much lower than expected. Mechanical modeling of the atomic structure of this contact was done in collaboration with Yue Qi, a research scientist with the General Motors R&D Center in Warren, MI.

State-of-the-art electrical modeling by Jesse Maassen in professor Hong Guo's McGill Physics research group confirmed this result, showing that dissimilarities in electronic structure between the two metals leads to a fourfold decrease in current flow, even for a perfect interface. The researchers additionally found that crystal defects — displacements of the normally perfect arrangement of atoms — generated by bringing the two materials into mechanical contact was a further reason for the observed reduction of the current.

"The size of that drop is far greater than most experts would expect — on the order of 10 times greater," notes Prof. Grütter.

The results point to a need for future research into ways to surmount this challenge, possibly through choice of materials or other processing techniques. "The first step toward finding a solution is being aware of the problem," Grütter notes. "This is the first time that it has been demonstrated that this is a major problem" for nanoelectronic systems."

Funding for this research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, le Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

How to design proteins from scratch

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 05:15 AM PST

Comparison of computational models with experimentally
determined structure: design model (left) and NMR structure (right). Credit: Nobuyasu Koga et al./Nature)

Given the exponential number of contortions possible for any chain of amino acids, dictating a sequence that will fold into a predictable protein structure has been a daunting task.

Now a team from David Baker's laboratory at the University of Washington reports that they can do just that, Nature News reports.

By following a set of rules, they designed five proteins from scratch that fold reliably into predicted conformations. In a blind test, the team showed that the synthesized proteins closely match the predicted structures.

"What you have now is a flexible set of building blocks for nanoscale assembly," says Jeremy England, a molecular biophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was not involved in the work.

The work was spearheaded by husband-and-wife team Nobuyasu Koga and Rie Tatsumi-Koga, protein engineers in Baker's group. After observing the backbone structures of thousands of proteins, they developed some intuitive rules they wanted to test.

Protein strands typically form helices and other classic secondary structures that in turn fold into the final protein shape. The team realized that these structures could be made to twist in one direction or another depending on the length of the loops that connected them. By choosing the right sequence lengths between these building blocks, the team could predict which way they would fold.


Medical devices powered by the ear itself

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 04:57 AM PST


A close-up of the new chip, equipped with a radio transmitter, which is powered by a natural battery found deep in the mammalian ear (credit: Patrick P. Mercier)

Deep in the inner ear of mammals is a natural battery — a chamber filled with ions that produces an electrical potential to drive neural signals.

A team of researchers from MIT, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) have demonstrated for the first time that this battery could power implantable electronic devices without impairing hearing.

The devices could monitor biological activity in the ears of people with hearing or balance impairments, or responses to therapies. Eventually, they might even deliver therapies themselves.

In experiments, Konstantina Stankovic, an otologic surgeon at MEEI, and HST graduate student Andrew Lysaght implanted electrodes in the biological batteries in guinea pigs' ears. Attached to the electrodes were low-power electronic devices developed by MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL).

After the implantation, the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests, and the devices were able to wirelessly transmit data about the chemical conditions of the ear to an external receiver.

"In the past, people have thought that the space where the high potential is located is inaccessible for implantable devices, because potentially it's very dangerous if you encroach on it," Stankovic says. "We have known for 60 years that this battery exists and that it's really important for normal hearing, but nobody has attempted to use this battery to power useful electronics."

The ear converts a mechanical force — the vibration of the eardrum — into an electrochemical signal that can be processed by the brain; the biological battery is the source of that signal's current. Located in the part of the ear called the cochlea, the battery chamber is divided by a membrane, some of whose cells are specialized to pump ions. An imbalance of potassium and sodium ions on opposite sides of the membrane, together with the particular arrangement of the pumps, creates an electrical voltage.

Although the voltage is the highest in the body (outside of individual cells, at least), it's still very low. Moreover, in order not to disrupt hearing, a device powered by the biological battery can harvest only a small fraction of its power. Low-power chips, however, are precisely the area of expertise of Anantha Chandrakasan's group at MTL.

The MTL researchers equipped their chip with an ultralow-power radio transmitter: After all, an implantable medical monitor wouldn't be much use if there were no way to retrieve its measurements.

But while the radio is much more efficient than those found in cellphones, it still couldn't run directly on the biological battery. So the MTL chip also includes power-conversion circuitry — like that in the boxy converters at the ends of many electronic devices' power cables — that gradually builds up charge in a capacitor. The voltage of the biological battery fluctuates, but it would take the control circuit somewhere between 40 seconds and four minutes to amass enough charge to power the radio. The frequency of the signal was thus itself an indication of the electrochemical properties of the inner ear.

To reduce its power consumption, the control circuit had to be drastically simplified, but like the radio, it still required a higher voltage than the biological battery could provide. Once the control circuit was up and running, it could drive itself; the problem was getting it up and running.

The MTL researchers solve that problem with a one-time burst of radio waves. "In the very beginning, we need to kick-start it," Chandrakasan says. "Once we do that, we can be self-sustaining. The control runs off the output." They implanted electrodes attached to the MTL chip on both sides of the membrane in the biological battery of each guinea pig's ear. In the experiments, the chip itself remained outside the guinea pig's body, but it's small enough to nestle in the cavity of the middle ear.

Cliff Megerian, chairman of the otolaryngology department at Case Western Reserve University, says that he sees three possible applications of the researchers' work: in cochlear implants, diagnostics and implantable hearing aids. "The fact that you can generate the power for a low voltage from the cochlea itself raises the possibility of using that as a power source to drive a cochlear implant," Megerian says. "Imagine if we were able to measure that voltage in various disease states. There would potentially be a diagnostic algorithm for aberrations in that electrical output."

"I'm not ready to say that the present iteration of this technology is ready," Megerian cautions. But he adds that, "If we could tap into the natural power source of the cochlea, it could potentially be a driver behind the amplification technology of the future."

The work was funded in part by the Focus Center Research Program, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Bertarelli Foundation.

Recyclable electronics: just add hot water

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 04:41 AM PST

How to recycle this printed circuit board: add hot water. The bonding material dissolves away leaving you with 90% of your components to re-use as you wish. (Credit: NPL)

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water.

The project partners designed, developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers that allow the assemblies to be easily separated at end-of-life into their constituent parts, after immersion in hot water — while withstanding prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing.

This revolutionary materials technology allows 90% of the original structure to be reused. For comparison, less than 2% of traditional PCB material can be reused.

The work was part of the ReUSE project, funded by the UK government's Technology Strategy Board. The aim of the ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project was to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies, in order to avoid an ever-growing volume of waste.

The electronics industry has a waste problem — currently over 100 million electronic units are discarded annually in the UK alone, making it one of the fastest growing waste streams. Around 85% of all PCB scrap board waste goes to landfill. Around 70% of this being of non-metallic content with little opportunity for recycling. This amounts to around 1 million tons in the UK annually.

The developed technology lends itself readily to rigid, flexible and 3D structures, which will enable the electronics industry to pursue new design philosophies — with the emphasis on using less materials and improving sustainability.

How the Internet of everything will change the world

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 04:33 AM PST



Internet of Everything (credit: Cisco)

From the Internet of Things (IoT), where we are today, we are just beginning to enter a new realm: the Internet of Everything (IoE), where things will gain context awareness, increased processing power, and greater sensing abilities, says Cisco in their blog.

Add people and information into the mix and you get a network of networks where billions or even trillions of connections create unprecedented opportunities and give things that were silent a voice.

Cisco says their IoE as bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before — turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.

A pressure switch inside the head

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 04:01 AM PST

View of the unpackaged prototype intracranial pressure sensor (credit: Thomas Velten/Fraunhofer IBMT

An increase in cerebral pressure may cause dementia or even destroy the brain, but there's no reliable sensor available (they quickly corrode), and current intracranial pressure systems keep patients in a hospital for days or weeks.

So Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) researchers have developed a small implantable sensor for cerebral pressure that's waterproof, using a casing made from high-grade titanium. It's a cylinder that measures about 1×2 centimeters, and in the future, should get even smaller, the researchers say.

The cover is made from a pliable membrane that reacts to pressure changes in the brain. This pressure is sensed by a silicon chip inside and  transmitted to an external measuring device via a radio signal.

The sensor operates without batteries (the external device provides the power), so the patient can wear it for several months, or even years, without requiring additional surgery.Usually, power to implanted chips (such as RFID chips embedded in animals) is delivered from a reader by inductive coupling to a small coil in the chip, with the energy stored in a capacitor. Dr. Thomas Velten, Head of Biomedical Microsystems at IBMT, confirmed that was the method they are using in an email to KurzweilAI.

What about a telemedicine connection to a clinic to avoid hospital visits? Velten said that currently, the reader is connected to a computer via USB. "For the future we plan to use a wireless link from reader to computer. Direct access to electronic patient record in a clinic is not planned, but this could be done if requested by a future user. Our institute (the group Home Care & Telemedicine) has expertise in the field of telemedicine.

"We are a research institute and we have just built the functional demonstrator device. If companies like the device and plan building a real product we will assist them."

In that connection, IBMT researchers will demo the device (with a transparent plastic skull) at the Medica trade fair in Düsseldorf Nov. 14–17.


It remains a mystery why the cerebral pressure in certain people suddenly increases. The consequences, however, are better understood: The blood circulation is disrupted and after a while, parts of the brain may die off, similar to what occurs in a stroke. Experts estimate that up to ten percent of all cases of dementia in Europe can be attributed to rising blood pressure in the brain.

People with a heightened susceptibility to a rise in intracranial pressure must be treated with intensive medical care today. A probe is inserted that goes from the outside through the skullcap to the brain. The cable keeps the patient connected to the measuring apparatus. Since cerebral pressure fluctuates, it takes extensive measurements in order to reach a definitive diagnosis of this disease. Patients therefore have to stay in hospital  typically for several days, and sometimes weeks.

Medical device engineers have been working on an intracranial pressure probe that operates without a cable and can be read from the outside using radio wave transmission. But there is no established product on the market to this date for long-term implantation, because the sensors always have the same problem: Their casing — produced primarily from biologically accepted synthetics — allows moisture to penetrate, which destroys the sensor in just a few days — or even hours.