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issue: July 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Sensors and MCUs
Offering Clear Choices

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

When Tanita Corporation designed a glass version of its body composition monitor, it also needed to develop transparent electrodes with the same accuracy as metal electrodes used in the past.

InnerScan body composition monitors from Tanita Corporation (Tokyo) are now available with transparent electrodes, providing a clean, smooth look. The company developed the technology as an alternative to the metal electrodes in its other monitors. In each monitor, an electrode built into the company’s patented footpad sends a safe, low-level signal through a person’s body. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis determines the strength and speed at which the signal passes through muscle and fat. The more muscle, the more efficiently the signal passes. Gender, age, height, and weight are factored in to increase the reading’s accuracy.

Integrating style with technology is an important strategy for Tanita Corporation, based in Tokyo. In its line of advanced body composition monitors, the company recently introduced clear footpads for a distinctive, clean appearance. Despite the lack of visible electrodes, the models provide the same performance level as models without the clear footpads.
Tanita reports it is the world’s largest scale manufacturer, including body fat monitors and precision digital scales for use in the medical, nutrition and health care industries. Among its most advanced products are body composition monitors, introduced in 2004. InnerScan body composition monitors, sold under Tanita and Ironman brands, feature weight and body fat recall and four-person memory. The newest models add six new monitoring features and provide information never before available from a consumer scale. In addition to weight, body fat and body water, InnerScan can monitor muscle mass, daily caloric intake, metabolic rate and age, bone mass, and visceral fat. It can also provide an overall physique rating.
The InnerScan monitors use Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA), a highly reliable method of analyzing body composition that can be done at home in a matter of seconds. BIA is based on a person’s height and weight, and the strength and speed at which a safe, low-level electrical signal passes through the muscle and fat in the body. Electrodes built into patented footpads send the signal through the body.
The first monitors had four opaque silver footpads that hid steel electrodes. However, as early as 2001, the company considered designing with glass.
“This meant developing transparent electrodes with the same accuracy as the ordinary metal electrodes we had been using,” says Toshihiko Ishikawa, product manager at Tanita. “We patented an applicable technology in 2001. However, it took us some 3 years – from 2001 to 2004 – to achieve the same accuracy as the metal electrodes.”
Work was carried out at the company’s Tokyo research facility, without significant outside supplier involvement. The company uses a transparent electrically conductive film, similar to that found on touch screens. A user stands barefoot so there is direct skin contact with the transparent electrodes to permit the conduction of the electrical current.
“The transparent electrodes give a smooth finish to the top of the products, making the electrodes not-apparent,” points out Beth Mackey, director of marketing at Tanita Corporation of America, Inc. (Arlington Heights, Illinois, U.S.). “It’s a nice, stylish look, and will allow for future design options.”
High-end clear electrode models have been on the market about a year in the United Kingdom, where they have reportedly been well received. U.S. versions were introduced in 2006.

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