Wed, Mar 25, 2015 - Page 4 News List

NARL unveils chip to monitor health

BREAKTHROUGH:The laboratories have developed the world’s first multitasking chip that integrates different types of sensors, as well as circuits for signal transmission

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

The National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) yesterday unveiled a compact integrated chip that can not only track users’ exercising habits and analyze their physical condition, but also meshes well with wearable devices.

Project leader and NARL Chip Implementation Center researcher Tsai Han-hui (蔡翰輝) said the integrated chip is the result of the laboratories’ collaboration with local chip manufacturers and is the first of its kind.

With the help of the technology, people could wake up in the morning to the voice of a microcomputer in a headset informing them of the state of their health and things to look out for in their lifestyle.

Combining sensor chips that detect the conditions in one’s surroundings — such as air quality and humidity — motion and physical conditions, the integrated chip recommends the best exercise for users at a given time and informs them of changes in their blood sugar level and heartbeat, while using a built-in antenna to transmit the data to a nearby hospital for processing, Tsai said.

Following analysis, the data is then transferred back to the chip to inform user of the state of their health and make suggestions accordingly, he said.

The chip measures just 2mm2, making it small enough to fit onto a headset or an earring and, therefore, is true to the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, Tsai said.

Existing technologies deals with sensor chips and ordinary chips separately because the manufacturing processes are very different, Tsai said.

Previous attempts by researchers to combine the chips have resulted in damaged circuits, but the NARL was able to overcome the technical difficulties by developing the world’s first multitasking chip that integrates different types of sensors, as well as circuits for electromagnetic signal transmission and data processing, into a single circuit board, Tsai said.

The next-generation chip is low-cost, compact and consumes less energy than ordinary chips, he said.

Citing a survey by French market research firm Yole, Tsai said Taiwan, a leader in integrated circuit fabrication with a 60 percent global market share, has room for improvements in terms of sensor chip design, with local firms making up less than 1 percent of the number of firms in the sector globally.

Tsai said the chip is remarkable since all the major technologies on sensor chip fabrication are owned by overseas firms.

He said the Chip Implementation Center would seek opportunities to work with academic institutions and the private sector to develop more types of sensor chips that offer consumers more options on IoT applications and help Taiwan become a world leader in IoT and wearable devices.

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