The European Space Agency is reporting that technology originally developed for its space program has now been implemented in a novel futuristic-looking insulin pump:
German student Nicole Schmiedel has come up with a design for a trendy-looking wristwatch that contains an innovative ultra-light insulin pump to help people with type 1 diabetes. The watch produces its own electricity thanks to the use of piezo-electric technology originally developed for European satellites.
A prototype of the novel insulin pump wristwatch named COR won one of the three Design and Technology Student Awards at this year’s MATERIALICA trade fair in Munich. It was presented for business professionals at this year’s European Space Technology Transfer Conference, an initiative of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office.
Inside COR a piezo-electric transducer absorbs the energy of even the slightest movement of the person who wears it and converts it into electricity to drive the insulin pump.
The transducer is based on those developed for space programmes where they are used in micro-positioning and vibration damping of optics embedded on satellites, such as those incorporated in the MIDAS instrument onboard ESA’s Rosetta comet chaser…
Schmiedel’s design looks like a modern wristwatch but contains a pump with sufficient insulin for two to three weeks use by a type-1 diabetic. The pump is attached to the user via a thin tube and a needle inserted under the skin to allow the insulin to flow into the body continuously, substituting conventional syringe injections…
Piezo-electric transducer technology is based on a physical phenomenon that has been known for a long time but was only researched and developed into a handy technology for space programmes back in the 1990s. When a small voltage is applied to a crystal such as quartz it causes it to change shape, that is to expand or contract.
Onboard the Rosetta satellite this phenomenon is used in piezo-electric transducers for micro-adjusting the positions of the MIDAS instrument as well as for its vibration damping.
Conversely, pressure resulting in a deformation of the crystal shape provokes a voltage that can be measured. Being proportional with the deformation it can be used to measure the amount of pressure, or deformation. In the same way the deformation of the piezo-electric transducer from vibrations caused by any movement of COR generates a voltage which can be used to drive the insulin pump.
Schmiedel has chosen the piezo-electric transducer “DuraAct” from the German company INVENT to drive her insulin pump.
“We started research into this new area a while back and two years ago we started the industrial production of our piezo-electric transducers named DuraAct. It is used by different companies in different fields. For example an automobile company uses our transducers in systems for noise damping of cars,” says Stefan Linke from INVENT GmbH.
The electricity is stored inside the wristwatch in accumulators ready for use. This secures a stable electricity supply even through periods of low-energy generation such as sleep.
“I was only able to design COR because the piezo-electric transducer technology had already been developed for space programmes and was ready to use,” says Schmiedel. “The next step is to find a company to produce COR and market it.”