Patch Work: Q&A with E Ink

Low power consumption, small form factor, and lightweight features are leading wearables beyond the smartwatch/smartband stage.

Editor’s Note: Paul Apen, Chief Strategy Officer at E Ink, which introduced with customer and partner LTS a “Smart Patch” initial prototype at the CPhI show in Messe Frankfurt in 2017 (Figure 1), spoke with EECatalog about the attributes wearable medical devices need to succeed.

EECatalog: How is the ePaper technology that is part of E Ink’s portfolio relevant to medical device applications and in particular to wearable devices used for medical purposes?

Paul Apen, E Ink

Paul Apen, E Ink: E Ink displays are a perfect match for medical applications for several reasons. First, the displays are bi-stable, meaning they only consume power when an image is changed. That gives quite a bit of benefit to the end user with regard to battery life. The display can also be autonomously powered by energy harvesting methods or even through the use of small solar panels or small solar cells.

Second, the reflective ePaper displays are ruggedized, making them ideal for the kinds of use cases where it is becoming more demanding to put information displays into IoT types of applications.

Third, the technology is low power, can be flexible and is thin and lightweight. You can integrate electronics in that small display to make wearable applications possible.

Figure 1: Product image for illustration purposes only. (Courtesy E Ink)

EECatalog: How are wearable applications being deployed in the medical sector?

Apen, E Ink: Wearable applications have typically been thought of as smartwatches or smartbands that are worn around the wrist. However, these applications also include medical packaging and transdermal therapeutic patches.

If wearable technology is thin and lightweight, it can go directly on the patch the patient wears and offer information, for example, about the use of the medication and the length of time the patch has been worn—things that are key to monitoring, understanding, and advancing the use of the medication. Also, the patch can be easily seen and connected to other smart devices.

EECatalog: How is the experience that E Ink has acquired to date playing a role as the company brings solutions to the medical sector?

Apen, E Ink: Our past experience is valuable to our partners for prototyping concepts and supporting further development of  product concepts. We have a long track record of being able to show that ePaper displays can be brought to market in mass production.

We also have a deep understanding of how to design and drive the display. In the case of the Smart Patch prototype—it’s a segmented display that includes preset images and icons. We are very familiar with how you can design a display to show particular information to the end user, or to the patient in this case.

Know-how of integrating the display drivers and the microcontrollers is also valuable. In the case of the Smart Patch prototype, it has a pressure sensor on the devices, which is used to indicate when the patch has been activated. The user gets a sense of when he or she has applied pressure as well as an indication of when enough pressure has been applied. That know-how and experience can help in the product development cycle with our customers.

EECatalog: What developments in the sensors industry are you watching?

Apen, E Ink: More and more sensors are being used to monitor patients’ health, such as monitoring temperature levels and heart rates or heart rhythms, glucose levels, and UV exposure.

The kinds of sensors I’ve just named are being incorporated into smaller and smaller form factors and wearable configurations that can be put on the body or deployed in a hospital environment. There’s interest in being able to show information at the same time with these sensors. We’re excited about the potential for real-time updates with a low power display and how it can dovetail with the work we are currently doing with the Smart Patch prototype.

EECatalog: How is E Ink addressing the issue of cost sensitivity in the medical device market?

Apen, E Ink: I don’t see any road blocks to addressing the market on the value or cost side. We will be working closely with our customers on that. The Smart Patch is not out on the market yet, and we have not completed all the testing activities. As the solution’s different pieces come together, it will be possible to evaluate the TCO and the benefits flowing from medical and patient adherence to medication regimes.

As a study by the New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI) revealed, poor medication adherence is a multi-hundred billion dollar problem in the U.S. and any kinds of technical solutions that can help that alone—whether our display or other smart types of wearables—I think can show sufficient value for what might be needed in terms of some additional costs.

EECatalog: Anything to add before we wrap up?

Apen, E Ink: I want to emphasize that E Ink’s approach to wearables extends beyond just the smartband/ smartwatch markets. Flexible electronics and displays that are low power and lightweight will increase the opportunity for E Ink and ePaper technology to be integrated into medical devices and even into fabrics and apparel. Our technology can help solve some of the challenges that exist out there and we’re excited to see what’s next.


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