1.1 Small and energy efficient

Health patch for better mobile solutions

Holst Centre has recently introduced its next-generation health patch. Optimized for low power consumption, the small form-factor, comfortable to wear health patch is the first of its kind to track physical and cardiac activity, while monitoring bioelectrical impedance. A key building block in the pursuit of improved and more accurate mobile health solutions, the patch is available for licensing by partner companies ready to initiate their own medical applications.

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1.2 Radar measurement

Long-term home monitoring you'll never even notice

Home monitoring is becoming an increasingly common option to allow elderly and chronically ill people live at home independently and safely. Radar measurements could make such long-term monitoring completely unobtrusive: the user doesn't need to wear or do anything.
Radar can be used to detect and measure motion from distances of a few meters. Hence it is a great solution for fall detection, doing away with the pendants and buttons of today's services. It can also measure much smaller movements such as the motion of the chest due to breathing and even your heartbeat, enabling remote respiration and heart rate monitoring.

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The challenge with radar measurements is to distinguish between the movement you want to track and the normal motion of everyday life such as walking or sitting down. Over the last year, Holst Centre has developed several algorithms to extract and quantify the desired signals.

In trials, we have successfully shown that these algorithms allow radar systems to detect falls and track a person's location and movement within a room. Furthermore, we have been able to remotely measure a person's vital signs as they move around. This includes monitoring heart rate – which involves isolating chest wall movements of around 0.1 mm from the much larger background of respiration and daily activity – with an accuracy comparable with ECG measurements from a wearable device.

Having achieved excellent results in tracking and vital signs monitoring for individuals, we are now showing the possibility to monitor multiple people in the same room.

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1.3 Non-contact measurement

Beyond wearables

Wearable devices are starting a revolution in health management, delivering comprehensive data on our bodies wherever we go. But wearables rely on people actually wearing them. To help take the health management revolution to the next stage, Holst Centre is exploring non-contact sensing solutions that can be embedded into objects around us. And in 2017 we took a big step forward in ensuring these solutions deliver the best possible data quality in any situation.

Non-contact measurement of vital signs perfectly complements emerging wearable health systems, providing semi-continuous monitoring with no effort or hassle for the user. This makes them useful where people perhaps don't have enough motivation to continually wear a monitoring device.

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Holst Centre is exploring various technologies including capacitive sensing and radar-based measurements. Offering short-range detection of biopotentials, capacitive sensors could be embedded into objects such as furniture and clothing. For example, sensors in car or desk seats could track stress and alertness levels for drivers and office staff. Meanwhile, vital signs in mattresses could allow patients to be safely discharged from hospital earlier with extended at-home follow-up.

However, the inconsistent signal quality inherent in such technologies represents a real challenge for health applications. Last year, among other advances, Holst Centre developed adaptive algorithms that help overcome this limitation. The algorithms allow cardiac sensors to switch between full ECG and low-data heart rate-only modes depending on the signal quality. This prevents sensor shutdown due to poor signals, enabling continuous monitoring with optimal data quality in all conditions.

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1.4 Approved products

Innovations find their way to market

Recently, two innovations involving Holst Centre's wearable health technology made their way to the market. One of these is the wireless EEG headset for emergency room and intensive care unit patients, developed in collaboration with Nihon Kohden and approved by the Japanese authority for clinical EEG monitoring.

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Together with US based company BioTelemetry, imec and Holst Centre developed the next generation Mobile Cardiac Outpatient Telemetry™ device, the MCOT™ Patch. The MCOT Patch offers the most accurate remote arrhythmia detection available on the market and received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016.

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1.5 Pressure sensor

Feeling the pressure when stretched

Holst Centre has revamped printed pressure sensor technology from flexible to stretchable. The breakthrough was made possible by the development by Holst Centre's ecosystem partners in conductive inks that can stretch over 20% and Holst Centre's newly developed handling and printed processes on polyurethane substrates. The final product, reliable and paper thin stretchable pressure sensors, open up exciting new sensing possibilities for comfortable to wear pressure monitoring systems such as shoe insoles and bed sore prevention mattresses.

1.6 Chill Band

Working to reduce stress

Developed by Holst Centre and imec, the Chill Band is a wearable wristband that measures galvanic skin response (GSR), skin temperature and acceleration (movement). It is an ideal platform for data collection for research in all kinds of health and wellness fields. 

For example, the Chill Band is currently being used in a large-scale study of one of the world's key health issues: workplace stress. Stress can lead to major mental and physical health problems – with effects felt throughout the body. The SWEET study aims to develop personalized intervention and feedback strategies that help people reduce their everyday stress levels. As a first step, the study is currently using the Chill Band to measure and quantify workplace stress from over 1000 volunteers at participating organizations. This data will provide the basis for developing algorithms that can automatically detect stress in individuals.

1.7 X-ray

Flexible X-ray detectors on a commercial scale

Holst Centre has produced the first commercial-sized flexible X-ray detectors. Measuring 17 x 17 cm, the new detectors replicate the performance of our smaller prototypes, meeting medical specifications. Using solution-based processes, they are suitable for upscaling to even larger sizes. Currently being transferred to production facilities, the technology could reduce costs for rigid detectors and enable lightweight, thin and robust flexible detectors. Holst Centre continues to explore the underlying technology's potential for new applications and modalities, such as non-destructive testing, fingerprint sensors and smart bandage.

2.1 Ion sensor

World's first solid-state multi-ion sensor
for Internet-of-Things applications

Holst Centre recently presented a miniaturized sensor that simultaneously determines pH and chloride (Cl-) levels in fluid. The innovation is a must-have for accurate long-term measurement of ion concentrations in applications such as environmental monitoring, precision agriculture and diagnostics for personalized healthcare. The sensor is an industry first and, thanks to System-on-Chip integration, it enables extensive and cost-effective deployments in Internet-of-Things settings. Its innovative electrode design results in a similar or better performance compared to today's standard equipment for measuring single ion concentrations and allows for additional ion tests.


Smart City Living Lab

How can the Internet of Things change the future of the average citizen? To answer this question, imec and Holst Centre joined forces with the City of Antwerp and the Flanders region to turn Antwerp into a 'Living Lab'. Here, businesses and researchers, local residents and the city itself will experiment with smart technologies that aim to make urban life more pleasant, enjoyable and sustainable.

2.3 Solid state thin-film batteries

Powering the green energy revolution

Electric vehicles and renewable energy promise to break our dependence on fossil fuels and free us from the huge health impact of air pollution. But both need to store large amounts of energy compactly and safely. Through a novel 3D architecture, Holst Centre has developed a high capacity electrode for solid-state lithium ion batteries that could deliver high energy density – and allow you to charge your electric car as quickly as filling a fuel tank.

Lithium-ion batteries are hugely popular in everything from wearable and portable devices to electric vehicles. But to support mass adoption in transport and green energy applications, batteries need to be safer, and have higher storage densities and charging speeds.

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Holst Centre has developed a novel 3D architecture for thin-film solid state lithium-ion batteries. A solid electrolyte reduces the fire risk compared with today's liquid electrolytes, while hundreds of structures 10s of microns high and less than 1 µm across massively increase the electrode surface area resulting in high storage capacities.

By focusing on the architecture, Holst Centre is developing a chemistry-agnostic platform for future developments. The platform can be easily tailored to newer materials as they become available, for example enabling a future transition to sulfur chemistries or sodium-ions to reduce costs.

The high-capacity 3D architecture could greatly increase the energy storage density of lithium-ion batteries, helping boost the range and performance of electric vehicles. Moreover, the thin-films used in the architecture could charge at up to 20C-rate. If scaled up successfully, that would allow electric cars to be recharged in minutes.

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2.4 Flexible perovskite solar cells

World-record efficiency for R2R perovskite solar cells


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2.5 Radio solutions

Pushing ultra-low power radios further

The City of Things will be built on the ability to share vast amounts of data between individuals, objects and infrastructure. To meet widely varying application needs in terms of range and data rates, systems will need to be upgraded or replaced by new radio solutions. But one requirement will be universal: the longest possible periods of autonomous operation from batteries or energy harvesting. Such ultra-low power radios have been a long-term focus for Holst Centre.

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Maximizing battery lifetime for Bluetooth 5

The recently announced Bluetooth 5 specification promises to enhance network capacity by a factor of 8, increasing data rates by a factor of 2 and transmission ranges by a factor of 4. In March 2017, we announced a highly compact and energy efficient receiver for Bluetooth 5 and beyond.

Realized in 40-nm CMOS, our new receiver measures just 0.3 mm2 – around a third the size of today's state-of-the-art devices. It consumes less than 1.6 mW peak power. Moreover, it can operate down to 0.85 V, maximizing autonomy by allowing the radio to continue operating as the battery discharges and its output voltage drops.

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Digital building blocks improve efficiency

A key strand in our efforts to minimize radio power consumption has been our success in developing new digital architectures for traditionally analog building blocks. The phase-locked loop (PLL) has typically been one of the most power-hungry of those blocks – as well as one of the most difficult to digitize.

At ISSCC in February, Holst Centre, imec and ROHM presented an all-digital PLL targeting Internet of Things applications. It combines low power consumption of 673 µW with small size (just 0.18 mm2 in 40-nm CMOS). Plus, with all spurs lower than -56 dBc and jitter below 2 ps, it delivers industrial grade performance.

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3.1 In-mold electronics

A revolution in intuitive user experiences

A technology demonstrator from Holst Centre and our partners is showing how functional surfaces could deliver a whole new level of intuitive user interface. The demonstrator consists of a car center console with NFC connectivity and touch controls illuminated by flexible OLEDs. It uses our in-mold electronics (IME) technology to integrate all this functionality into a 3D plastic surface just 1.5 mm thick. Fully compatible with standard thermoforming and injection molding processes, the technology can be applied in all kinds of automotive and consumer applications.

3.2 Thin-film transistor pilot line

Pilot production shows scalability of flexible TFTs

Holst Centre took a major step in the scale-up of TFT-based flexible electronics with the first demonstrators from our thin-film transistor pilot line. Using Gen 1 (320 x 352 mm) glass carriers and industry-standard processing technologies, the pilot line helps bridge the gap between lab-scale demonstration and commercial mass production. It enables prototyping and pilot production for applications such as flexible displays and imagers, distributed sensing and large-area circuitry. The line also offers a testbed for developing next-generation materials, tools and processes.

3.3 Flexible OLED displays

Towards paper thin,
foldable displays

Although curved displays are slowly entering the market, the advantage of truly flexible - or even foldable - displays will open up a whole range of new applications. However, with flexibility comes the need for robustness. From a technological point of view, we are facing an interesting challenge: to be foldable, the display needs to be paper thin. At the same time, all constituting layers should retain their functionality. OLED display thickness is essentially determined by the substrate and moisture barrier layers. We are currently exploring how to reduce the thickness of these layers, without compromising the display's mechanical stability or barrier functionality.

3.4 Roll to roll OLED

PI-SCALE spurs on commercial adoption

Holst Centre has joined forces with other European technology leaders to develop an open access pilot line for flexible OLEDs. Supported by the European Commission through the Photonics Public Private Partnership, the PI-SCALE pilot line bridges the gap between R&D and mass manufacturing, accelerating commercial adoption of flexible OLEDs for lighting and signage. The first customized prototypes were shown at Eindhoven's Glow festival in November 2016. They included 2 m x 30 cm roll-to-roll manufactured evaporated OLED films based on Holst Centre's high-performance moisture barrier technology. We expect first light from solution-processed roll-to-roll samples in April 2017, with the full line due to open in the summer.

3.5 sALD

Novel process out-performs current display making techniques

Fast and industry-compatible, spatial atomic layer deposition (sALD) promises to revolutionize thin-film display production. Now researchers at Holst Centre have shown that sALD can deliver semiconductor layers with better performance than physical vapor deposition (PVD) at the same – and potentially even higher – throughputs. An easily scalable, atmospheric-pressure process, sALD could soon become the preferred method for creating large-area thin-film and flexible devices.

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Holst Centre in a nutshell

Holst Centre is an independent R&D center that develops technologies for wireless autonomous sensor technologies and flexible electronics, in an open innovation setting and in dedicated research trajectories. A key feature of Holst Centre is its partnership model with industry and academia based around roadmaps and programs. It is this kind of cross-fertilization that enables Holst Centre to tune its scientific strategy to industrial needs.

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