Plessey's other university-inspired innovation is its ImPulse portable electrocardiograph (ECG). It makes use of two of Plessey's EPIC sensors in a low-cost handheld ECG machine that could be used in the doctor's surgery or sold in the pharmacy for home use. It is a fully-fledged machine resplendent with company logo which has been submitted to the United States Federal Drug Administration for approval.
The EPIC sensor, in development at the University of Sussex in England for more than eight years prior to being licensed to Plessey for commercialization, works by measuring changes in an electric field. It is capacitively-coupled and can do this even at a distance and through clothing. This enables it to be used for security motion sensors, for gesture recognition and for non-contact electrical switches as well as medical applications detecting heart beats, nerve and muscle activity either by dry contact or without contact.
Earlier in 2012 Plessey cost-reduced the original EPIC sensor replacing the titanium dioxide electrodes used for the higher end, medical applications. As a result it can produce the sensors for less than $1 each in volume and it has a production cost for the ImPulse ECG of around $50.
But isn't that breaking a golden rule of chip manufacturing, not to compete with customers? Dennington argues that the market for EPIC-based products is broad in terms of both applications and geography. "We can also do manufacturing here. We're doing a further shrink of the ImPulse ECG."
Plessey has also used the technology to monitor heart rate variability from which it is possible to tell whether a driver is becoming sleepy. The company recommends an array of sensors built into a seat back and has produced a demonstrator. "Automotive design-in takes a longer," said Dennington who indicated that Plessey is also pursuing consumer electronics applications based on gesture recognition using arrays of the same sensors.
Both the ImPulse ECG and the automotive application are due to be exhibited at Electronica.
Plessey was a prestigious name in U.K. electronics in the second half of the last century that disappeared for awhile. The company is back and is making its way with an old-fashioned focus on bringing local R&D to market and on making things.