smart-MEMPHIS creates a new value chain for developing self-powering pacemakers and wireless sensors

smart-MEMPHIS, a four-year project joining the forces of nine European companies, universities and research institutes, has drawn to a close, establishing a new competitive ecosystem for energy autonomous smart sensor systems and building European leadership in the microsystems sector.

The project’s aim was to address the increasing demand for low-cost, energy-efficient autonomous systems by focusing on the main challenge faced by all smart devices: self-powering. The goal was to design, manufacture, and test innovative miniature-sized electronics components capable of harvesting low-frequency vibrational energy with piezo-MEMS (microelectromechanical system) energy harvesters.

“Such components are already in use, for example, in smart watches, but our goal was way more ambitious,” says Pirjo Pasanen, Director of Health and Electronics, Spinverse. Spinverse assisted in launching and coordinating the project and preparing business plans.

By ambitious, Pasanen refers to one of the project’s objectives, which was to develop a leadless, minimally invasive cardiac pacemaker powered by the energy of heartbeats. It also had to consume a minimal amount of energy and be very small, as it was to be inserted directly into the heart through a vein. 

In the final project review, the expert reviewers especially noted the high commitment and strong effort by the partners to achieve the project’s goals whilst tackling major scientific and technological challenges. The project’s professional coordination and management, handled by Spinverse, was also highly praised and seen as a major contributor to achieving the results during the lengthy project.

Compared to current pacemakers, the new device developed by Cairdac as part of the smart-MEMPHIS project has two major advantages. First, the present-day pacemakers are made up of two parts: a pulse generator housing a battery and the electrical circuitry that regulates the rate of the electrical pulses sent to the heart, and one to three leads placed inside the heart.

“The smart-MEMPHIS, however, is leadless and energy autonomous, so there is no need for a separate battery. This means it leaves no scars nor are there unpleasant bumps under the skin,” Pasanen says 

Second, the batteries used by the current pacemakers need to be changed every ten years, requiring costly surgical operations. The device demonstrated in the Smart-MEMPHIS project, however, is self-powering, i.e. capable of recharging itself, resulting in a more reliable, convenient, and cost-effective pacemaker.


Ultra-low power consumption

The project’s second objective was to develop a wireless sensor network with self-powering acoustic sensor nodes for structural health monitoring by Vermon. Sensors will detect changes in materials or complex structures, such as micro-cracks in wind turbine blades. Structural health monitoring increases the safety of the monitored structures by helping to identify material fatigue or damage in structures that are difficult to monitor manually.

“One of the project’s highlights was the development of an ultra-low power ASIC component for the device’s power management. The ASIC developed by Linköping University offers a record-low power consumption compared to previously known solutions,” says Pasanen.

Other takeaways include, for example, a new low-cost industrial process for mass producing high-quality lead-zirconate-titanate (PZT) thin films by Silex Microsystems, a novel encapsulation concept for supercapacitors by Fraunhofer IZM, and new nanomaterials for supercapacitors reaching beyond state-of-the-art energy density and frequency response properties by Chalmers University.

The pacemaker is ready for in-vivo chronic validation and will soon start clinical trials. The same energy harvesting concept can also be used in other medical applications and IoT devices, such as wearable electronics and industrial wireless sensing systems requiring self-powered wireless nodes with very low maintenance.

The project received €8.2 million in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Partners: Silex Microsystems, Linköping University, RISE Acreo, Chalmers University of Technology, The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM, CAIRDAC SAS, Vermon, aixACCT, Spinverse