Wireless Brain Implant Using a Telemetric Electrode Array System

A 3D intra-cortical electrode array is embedded for signal acquisition, processing, and wireless communication.

The ability to monitor the activities of ensembles of single neurons is critically important in understanding the principles of information processing in the brain that underlie perception, cognition, and action. Multiple microelectrode recording using appropriate neuronal implants provides this ability. The Telemetric Electrode Array System (TEAS) project aims at developing and embedding a three-dimensional intra-cortical electrode array with all electronics required for signal acquisition, processing, and wireless communication entirely into the head.

Posted in: Briefs, MDB, TSP, Briefs, TSP, Electronics, Electronics & Computers, Bio-Medical, Implants & Prosthetics, Medical, Wireless communication systems, Nervous system, Prostheses and implants

Mechatronic System Integration and Design

While today’s multi-discipline mechatronic systems significantly outperform legacy systems, they are also much more complex by nature, requiring close cooperation between multiple design disciplines in order to have a chance of meeting schedule requirements and first-pass success. Mechatronic system designs must fluently integrate analog and digital hardware — along with the software that controls it — presenting daunting challenges for design teams, and requiring design processes to evolve to accommodate.

What is Mechatronic Design?

Figure 1. Major elements of mechatronic design.The growing trend toward mechatronic system design is driven by the same things that drive all technological advances: the demand for higher performance and lower costs. The word itself is a portmanteau of “Mechanics” and “Electronics.” As Figure 1 shows, mechatronic design includes a combination of (1) mechanical design elements (e.g., plant, actuators, thermal characteristics, hydraulics/fluids, and magnetics); (2) analog, digital, and mixed-signal electronics; (3) control systems; and (4) embedded software. The intersections in Figure 1 — (a) electromechanical sensors and actuators; (b) control circuits; and (c) digital microcontrollers — reveal the most common areas for interdisciplinary cooperation among mechanical, electrical, and software engineers.

Best Mechatronic Design Practices

Boston-based technology think tank, Aberdeen Group Inc., provided pivotal insight into the importance of incorporating the right design process and tools for mechatronic system design. In a seminal study, Aberdeen researchers used five key product development performance criteria to distinguish “Best in Class” companies, as related to mechatronic design. The results were fairly revealing (see table), and should be of significant interest within the extended design community. In the study, Best in Class companies proved to be twice as likely as “Laggards ” (worst in class companies) to achieve Revenue targets, twice as likely to hit Product Cost (manufacturing) targets, three times as likely to hit Product Launch Dates, twice as likely to attain Quality objectives, and twice as likely to control their Development Costs (R&D).1

The fact that the Best in Class companies performed better isn’t as noteworthy as the degree to which they performed better. Two to three times better on every variable invites the question, “How were they able to achieve these far superior results?” Aberdeen’s research revealed that Best in Class companies were:

2.8 times more likely than Laggards to carefully communicate design changes across disciplines. 3.2 times more likely than Laggards to allocate design requirements to specific systems, subsystems, and components. 7.2 times more likely than Laggards to digitally validate system behavior with the simulation of integrated mechanical, electrical, and software components.

The remainder of this article will explore these “best in class” practices in further detail.

Communicating and Allocating Design Requirements

A mechanical engineer may be interested in dampening vibration by adding a stiffener. This, of course, would add mass and as a result, may impact how fast the control system ramps up motor speed, thus impacting size requirements on the motor as well as power requirements. The benefits of immediate, formal documentation of this design change enables concurrent, cross-discipline design.

Effective partitioning of the multiple technologies present in a mechatronic system is another significant predictor of project success. Subsystem partitioning begins with a common-sense breakdown of the design, using Figure 1 as a highlevel framework. To the degree possible, separate out mechanical subsystems from electrical subsystems, and the same with controls and software. From there, subsystems can further be broken down into subcategories beneath the high-level distinctions, including, for example, digital, analog, and mixed-signal electronics; divisions in mechanical subsystems; and breaking out overlapping areas (e.g., sensors and actuators) as additional subsystems.

Figure 2. Allocation of design requirements through a top-down design process.Next, subsystems can be assigned to specific job functions and design groups, and input/output requirements can begin to be defined at the boundary crossings between subsystems.2 Figure 2 shows the partitioning process, moving from functional design through implementation.

With this framework in place, the design and analysis can begin for each subsystem — later to be combined and analyzed as a complete system.

Simulation and Virtual Prototyping

In contrast to physical prototyping, virtual prototyping and system simulation allows a system to be tested as it is being designed, and provides access to its innermost workings at every phase of the design process (this is difficult or impossible with physical prototypes). Moreover, simulation provides for analysis of the impact of component tolerances on overall system performance, which is out of the question with physical prototypes.

When employed early in the design process, simulation provides an environment in which a system can be tuned and optimized, and critical insights can be gained, even before components are available and before hardware can be built. After the basic design is locked down, simulation can again be em - ployed to verify intended system operation, varying parameters statistically in ways that would otherwise be impossible with physical prototypes.

Subsystem and Component Modeling

Results summary for the Aberdeen study: “System Design: New Product Development for Mechatronics.”In order to create a model for a system, each subsystem and component in the real system needs to have a corresponding model. These models are then stitched together (as would be their physical counterparts) to create the overall system model. Using the Department of Defense-initiated VHDLAMS modeling standard (IEEE 1076.1), system integration can begin before physical hardware is available, including embedded software or any other domain that can be described using algebraic or differential equations.

To be specific, VHDL-AMS allows expression of simultaneous, nonlinear differential and algebraic equations in any model; the model creator need only express the equations and let the simulator solve them in time or frequency domain. Domain knowledge from any engineering discipline can be encapsulated in reusable libraries that are accessible by any member of the design team.

The art of creating these models, and knowing exactly what to model and why, are keys to successful simulation. Some modeling include:

Which system-performance characteristics are critical, and which can be ignored without affecting results? Does a model already exist? Can an existing model be modified? What component data is available?

Several software simulators exist for simulating mechatronic designs (such as SystemVision from Mentor Graphics). These simulators support VHDL-AMS, SPICE, and embedded C code in providing an environment in which mechanical, electrical, software, and systems engineers can collaborate using common models and a common modeling environment3. In conjunction with proper mechatronic system-design training, careful interdiscipline communication, and deliberate system partitioning, simulation technology can play a key role in mechatronic project success.

This article was written by Bill Hargin, Director of Product Marketing, System-Level Engineering Division, Mentor Graphics Corporation, Wilsonville, OR. For more information, click here.


Aberdeen Group, System Design: New Product Development for Mechatronics, Boston, MA, January 2008. (www.aberdeen.com) Scott Cooper, Mentor Graphics Corp., Design Team Collaboration within a System Modeling and Analysis Environment, 2004. (www.mentor.com/systemvision) Ashenden, G. Peterson, D. Teegarden, The System Designer’s Guide to VHDL-AMS: Analog, Mixed-Signal and Mixed-Technology Modeling. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman Publishers, September 2002. (www.mkp. com/vhdl-ams)
Posted in: Articles, Electronics, Mechanical Components, Design processes, Architecture, Mechatronics, Systems engineering

Wireless, Handheld Electronic Medical Record Application

Healthcare providers can view, update, and share patient information from a handheld device.

PocketChart™, available in numerous medical specialty editions, is a wireless, handheld electronic medical record application that will help physicians increase productivity, reduce transcription costs, and increase revenue through improved code levels. PocketChart enables a PocketPC to synchronize with a desktop computer, allowing healthcare providers to continuously update, view, exchange, and print patient information. It is designed for use at point-of-care in a variety of clinical settings including hospitals, homes, and extended-care facilities.

Posted in: Briefs, MDB, Briefs, Electronics, Electronics & Computers, Bio-Medical, Medical, Software, Human machine interface (HMI), Medical, health, and wellness, Data management

Microfluidic Extraction of Biomarkers Using Water as Solvent

Terahertz modulation of permittivity of water would enable solvation of molecules of interest.

A proposed device, denoted a miniature microfluidic biomarker extractor (μ-EX), would extract trace amounts of chemicals of interest from samples, such as soils and rocks. Traditionally, such extractions are performed on a large scale with hazardous organic solvents; each solvent capable of dissolving only those molecules lying within narrow ranges of specific chemical and physical characteristics that notably include volatility, electric charge, and polarity. In contrast, in the μ-EX, extractions could be performed by use of small amounts (typically between 0.1 and 100 μL) of water as a universal solvent.

Posted in: Briefs, MDB, Briefs, Electronics, Electronics & Computers, Bio-Medical, Medical, Patient Monitoring, Soils, Water, Chemicals, Test equipment and instrumentation

Safety & Security Category Winner

Electronic Fog, Frost, and Ice Prevention Technology


Don Skomsky Integrity Engineering, Inc. West Chester, PA

This electronic device prevents condensation, frost, and ice from forming on any surface. It predicts when fog, frost, and/or ice is about to form on a surface (windows, mirrors, lenses, visors, etc.), and prevents it from ever forming by eliminating the conditions that support it. It works equally well in hot or cold temperatures, in arid to extremely humid conditions, and even in the rain and under water. Applications for the device include windshields; ski, swimming, and safety goggles; HAZMAT, SCUBA, firefighter, and pilot masks; and motorcycle, racing, and astronaut helmet visors.

Since it is entirely electronic, the device requires no sprays, wipes, fans, or any other user intervention. Because it is predictive and not reactive, it requires an extremely small amount of energy. There are no moving parts and nothing to wear out. In a sports goggle application (trademarked Zoggles™), the device is built into the goggle itself, resulting in a goggle that is lightweight, sleek, and stylish. When activated by a touch of a switch, the Smart-System electronics maintains Zoggles in “sleep mode,” conserving energy until such time that fog, frost, or ice is about to form. Immediately, Zoggles awakens, performs its prevention task, and resumes sleeping, until needed again at a later time. All energy is supplied by small rechargeable NiMH batteries, which power Zoggles for at least 8 hours of extremely active use in very cold temperatures.

The device has been tested in numerous applications, the most rigorous being during the ascent of Mount Everest in 2006, with a summit of 29,029 feet. In specially prepared units, Zoggles protected the mountain climbers’ vision in the -35ºF, 60-MPH weather conditions without fogging, frosting, or icing.

For more information, contact the inventor at IntegEngg@erols.com.

Honorable Mentions

Ten-Second Advance Deceleration Warning Device


Fritz Braunberger Vision Works IP Corp. Sequim, WA

StrobeWise™ provides an additional 1 to 10 seconds of warning time (over and above brake lights) to following vehicles, warning them of a slowing or stopping event. The system monitors vehicle speed 1,000 times per second and flashes a center-high-mounted amber strobe rearward upon deceleration detection. It continually flashes when the vehicle is stationary, mitigating stationary-vehicle rear-end collisions. The system mounts on the inside rear window or externally on rear-windowless trucks. It retrofits on nearly all vehicles made later than 1993.

Emergency Drop in Water Recovery Preparation Unit

Preparation Unit

Anna Epelbaum Management Services Co. Champaign, IL

This device functions from solar energy and/or portable fuels such as butane and propane. The unit may be transported to any emergency site where it then begins to process water once set up with any water source within 35 feet. The device loads water from rivers, ponds, lakes, streets, or sewers, and then filters the water. It uses advanced ozone bubbles and ultraviolet radiation, as well as activated carbon, to repatriate the water into drinkable form. The water is then distributed in RFID-coded one-gallon bottles. The empty bottle may be returned to the machine for re-filling and re-sealing an unlimited number of times.

Posted in: Articles, Electronics, Design processes, Security systems, Product development

Miniature Control Chip Drives James Webb Telescope Signal

SIDECAR ASIC microprocessor-controlled chip Teledyne Imaging Sensors Camarillo, CA 805-373-4545 www.teledyne-si.com

The electronics that will convert analog signals to digital signals on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), being built by Northrop Grumman and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, have been miniaturized to take up less space and to weigh less. The electronics also will provide better images of objects in space when they are sent back to scientists on Earth.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Electronics, Sensors, Imaging and visualization, Sensors and actuators

Taking Advantage of Parallel Parametric Testing

The production of many electronic devices begins with wafer processing. In addition to complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuits (ICs), this can include such diverse devices as radio frequency (RF) components based on III-V compounds and chemical detectors based on carbon nanotube (CNT) field effect transistors (FETs). In both R&D and production applications, there is a great deal of effort devoted to increasing device test throughput in order to shorten the time to market and reduce costs.

Posted in: Articles, Electronics, Test & Measurement, Electronic equipment, Integrated circuits, Semiconductor devices, Research and development, Production

30 Years of Electronics & Semiconductors

In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of NASA Tech Briefs, our features in 2006 highlight a different technology category each month, tracing the past 30 years of the technology, and continuing with a glimpse into the future of where the technology is headed. Along the way, we include insights from industry leaders on the past, present, and future of each technology. This month, we take a look at the past 30 years of Electronics & Semiconductors.

Posted in: Articles, Electronics, Semiconductors & ICs, Electronic equipment, Semiconductor devices, Technical review, Semiconductors

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