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Body Voltage Monitor Brings ESD Protection to Electronics Manufacturing

One of the less emphasized but most important aspects of electronic design is electrostatic discharge (ESD) events. While much of ESD prevention depends on how an engineer designs a circuit—namely, adding proper ESD protection—another vital aspect of ESD prevention occurs in the manufacturing and assembly stages. 

Today, Iona Tech, a Colorado-based startup, has announced the release of “the world’s first wireless wearable body voltage monitor.”

StatIQ Band. Image used courtesy of Iona Tech

Worn on the upper arm in a form factor smaller and lighter than a deck of cards, the StatIQ Band continuously measures body voltage and triggers an alarm when a user discharges static from their body or when a preset level is exceeded. With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability, the device can connect to a smartphone to display the user’s body voltage in real-time. 

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All About Circuits corresponded with Jonathan Tapson, CTO at Iona Tech, to gather more exclusive details about the new monitor.

ESD Events in Electronics

ESD events often occur as a result of static electricity build-up when two dissimilar materials touch and subsequently separate. This event is governed by a process called triboelectric charging, where one object acquires electrons and becomes negatively charged, while the other object loses electrons and becomes positively charged. If one of these charged entities subsequently interacts with another conductive object, like a metallic instrument or an electronic component, the charge can move from one object to another, leading to an ESD event.

Triboelectric charging is the source of many ESD events. Image used courtesy of Flowcrete

In the electronics manufacturing industry, ESD events are particularly relevant because many electronic components are extremely sensitive to electrostatic discharge. Even a small ESD event, which might not be noticeable to a human, can cause significant damage to these components. This damage can result in immediate device failure, or it can weaken the component and cause it to fail prematurely after it has been installed in a device (a latent failure). 

To prevent ESD events, electronics manufacturers use a variety of ESD control measures: their workers wear grounding straps to prevent the build-up of static charge, they use anti-static materials for work surfaces and packaging, and they maintain a controlled environment with a suitable level of humidity to reduce static build-up.

StatIQ: A New Kind of ESD Monitor

Today, Iona Tech announced the release of a wireless body voltage monitor for detecting and preventing ESD events. The new device aims to prevent damage caused by ESD events by tracking a user’s body voltage. The monitor detects when a large charge is building up, indicating that an event is imminent, or when the body voltage significantly drops, indicating that an ESD event has already occurred.

One of the strengths of StatIQ is its ability to work wirelessly and without a ground reference point. 

“It works best when worn against the skin or over a conductive or dissipative garment such as an ESD-compliant smock or shirt.  It works at a reduced accuracy (+/-100 V) over cotton fabrics,” Tapson remarked. 

The physics behind the StatIQ system. Image used courtesy of Iona Tech

Unlike traditional body voltage monitoring, which directly measures the body’s voltage using a neutral GND location as a reference, StatIQ determines body voltage based on the body’s electric field. When the surface of the skin develops a charge, it also produces an electric field proportional to the charge density. The device can estimate the full body charge based on the charge density. Knowing the capacitance of the human body, the body’s overall voltage can be calculated. 

A human being has an electric capacitance of typically 220 pF. When we acquire charge (by shuffling our feet or other triboelectric action), our voltage goes up. We also generate an electric field, which, according to Gauss’ law, is perpendicular to our conductive surface and proportional to our charge density.

Jonathan Tapson, CTO at Iona Tech

The StatIQ Band measures the electric field perpendicular to our skin, allowing us to then estimate the charge density of the skin, and thereby the total charge on the body, and thereby the voltage.

Jonathan Tapson

A Solution to ESD-caused Electronics Damage?

Some reports estimate that the electronics manufacturing industry loses as much as $5 billion per year due to ESD events. With this new device, IONA Tech has created a way to measure the body’s voltage without the need for bulky and clumsy wiring. It’s highly accurate, too.

We get no more than +/-10% variation across a wide variety of adult body sizes and shapes

Jonathan Tapson
User wearing a StatIQ band on the upper arm. Image used courtesy of Iona Tech

The device operates for up to 18 hours on a rechargeable LiPo battery and is recharged over USB-C. With a sample rate of 1,200 samples per second, the StatIQ Band has the potential to increase access to ESD protection and prevention and save the electronics industry millions.

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