Lighting technologies can be considered mundane in many ways but light and its properties find applications in products much more varied than lamps and luminaires.
Take the BlueTouch Pain Relief Patch for instance, a new product from Philips, designed to offer non-invasive on-demand pain relief for people with (mild to moderate chronic) muscular back pain in a discrete, wearable device. It uses special blue LED light to induce production of nitric oxide (NO) in the skin, which is proven to trigger a number of protective and preventive processes in the body. It relaxes muscles through a mechanism centered on improved blood circulation, which results in pain relief.
The BlueTouch Pain Relief Patch from Philips.
Enlarged image of blue LEDs and a sensor, integrated in a textile fabric.
Unlike UV rays, blue LED light is not toxic for skin cells. This means its pain-relieving and protective properties can be used broadly. In particular, the fact that blue LED light induces the body's own natural processes - without the need for exogeneous chemical substances - gives it a crucial advantage over other therapy forms.
The Philips research team (Philips light & Health Ventures) developed a totally innovative, mobile solution for applying blue LED light for back pain. The team managed to integrate LEDs into a flexible, wearable fabric. The LEDs are fitted with rechargeable battery packs, making it possible to provide mobile treatment for back pain. The LED patch permits afflicted areas to be treated comfortably, even over longer periods of time.
Discussing further work on textile integration of electronics, Koen van OS, working with the Philips Group Innovation/Research division, told IDTechEx:
"Many people are suffering from skin diseases and chronic muscle pains. Blue LED light can support the healing processes in the body. But in order to wear this light on the body it needs to be integrated in a device. Attaching devices to the human skin for relatively long periods requires high level of comfort. In the European project consortium PLACE-it we have developed disruptive ways of assembling electronics, creating electronic surfaces which can follow body curves in a very flexible and stretchable way, and can be worn even on the go. This can open the way to new therapies, improving the lives of people with skin conditions or muscle pain. Although focus is mainly on these health applications, same technologies can be applied in areas like automotive and architecture. Design rules are similar, only dimensions have to be increased".
Battery packs or energy harvesting?
Dr Zervos also discussed these developments with the Philips Innovation Services division. One of the main questions that arose was the possibility of replacing battery packs with energy harvesting. Philips told IDTechEx that the interest is there from, but unfortunately current options do not carry enough power to run the 35 LEDs that are integrated into the patch. Thermoelectric generators were one of the options studied, mainly due to the possibility for integrating them in the device close to the skin, and take advantage of the temperature differences between the human skin and ambient air.
While this is a particularly demanding application in terms of power generation, further developments of ultra-low power electronics are making many other applications possible. Building integration of wireless sensors, wireless switches etc. has been the sector that has seen the largest energy harvesting uptake so far, with further low-power applications in residential building, consumer but also industrial applications gearing up for deployment in the near future.
As an example of scale up, OSRAM is already incorporating innovative approaches for industrial, logistics and commercial building applications in order to optimize power usage and lead to more sustainable practices. The return on investment from OSRAM's deployments for its clients is very quick and although energy harvesting has not so far been largely deployed, the company's energy efficiency solution division is already considering utilizing wireless sensors and energy harvesting technologies in order to better serve customer needs.
These topics and many more will be discussed in the upcoming IDTechEx co-located conferences in Berlin on the 17th and 18th of April. Printed Electronics Europe , Energy Harvesting & Storage and Wireless Sensor Networks & RTLS alongside another 6 co-located events on emerging electronics, will shed light on a multitude of topics, will unveil applications in a wide range of market sectors and will lead to fruitful cross-fertilization and networking opportunities. Presentations from companies such as Philips, OSRAM, but also developments of OLED technologies from companies like Panasonic and the Fraunhofer's COMMEDD will make for a compelling conference programme.