(19)
(11)EP 3 731 736 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
13.07.2022 Bulletin 2022/28

(21)Application number: 18833002.1

(22)Date of filing:  17.12.2018
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
A61B 5/00(2006.01)
A61B 5/01(2006.01)
A61B 5/107(2006.01)
(52)Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC):
A61B 5/01; A61B 5/1072; A61B 5/442
(86)International application number:
PCT/EP2018/085217
(87)International publication number:
WO 2019/129523 (04.07.2019 Gazette  2019/27)

(54)

SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR DETECTING A THICKNESS OF A LAYER

SYSTEM UND VERFAHREN ZUM NACHWEIS EINER DICKE EINER SCHICHT

SYSTÈME ET PROCÉDÉ DE DÉTECTION D'ÉPAISSEUR D'UNE COUCHE


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 26.12.2017 US 201762610401 P

(43)Date of publication of application:
04.11.2020 Bulletin 2020/45

(73)Proprietor: Robert Bosch GmbH
70442 Stuttgart (DE)

(72)Inventors:
  • PETERS, Christian
    Sunnyvale, CA 94085 (US)
  • MENSCH, Beatrix
    89257 Illerstein (DE)
  • ROCZNIK, Thomas
    Mountain View, CA 94040 (US)
  • YEE, Seow Yuen
    Mountain View, CA 94043 (US)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A1-2016/054348
US-A1- 2002 031 164
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    Field



    [0001] This disclosure relates to the field of heat transfer and, in particular, to sensing a thickness of a layer based on heat transfer.

    Background



    [0002] Heat transfer is the study of the use, conversion, and exchange of thermal energy between physical systems. Heat transfer includes thermal conduction, thermal convection, and thermal radiation. As related to the human body, heat transfer includes the exchange of thermal energy between the body and the environment. In connection with a machine, heat transfer includes the exchange of thermal energy from within a machine to the environment or to another machine.

    [0003] It is sometimes desirable to determine the thickness of a layer of a system, such as a machine or a body. For example, in the fields of medicine, health, and fitness it is desirable to calculate a thickness of a person's skin. A physician may require an estimation of the thickness of the patient's hypodermis at a particular region of the patient's body. Known methods, however, produce thickness estimations that are less accurate than desired. Accordingly, further advancements in the area of heat transfer and, more particularly, the estimation, detection, and calculation of a thickness of a layer are desirable.
    US 2002/031164 A1 describes a method and an apparatus for photothermal analysis of a layer. WO 2016/054348 A1 describes a device and a method for sensing epidermal tissue.

    Summary



    [0004] The scope of the present invention is defined by the independent claims. According to an exemplary embodiment of the disclosure, a thickness analyzer unit for determining a thickness of a layer according to claim 1 is disclosed.

    [0005] According to another exemplary embodiment of the disclosure, a method for determining a thickness of a layer according to claim 7 with a thickness analyzer unit is disclosed.

    Brief Description of the Figures



    [0006] The above-described features and advantages, as well as others, should become more readily apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art by reference to the following detailed description and the accompanying figures in which:

    FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a thickness analyzer unit, as disclosed herein, that is configured to determine a thickness of a layer of a system;

    FIG. 2 is a diagram and a schematic of an electrical model of heat transfer through an exemplary system shown as a human body;

    FIG. 3 is a flowchart illustrating an exemplary method for operating the analyzer unit of FIG. 1;

    FIG. 4 is a graph of normalized temperature versus normalized time; and

    FIG. 5 is block diagram illustrating a transfer function.


    Detailed Description



    [0007] As shown in FIG. 1, a thickness analyzer unit 100 is configured to determine a thickness of a layer of any material by analyzing a thermal step response of the layer and determining a thermal time constant. The thickness of the layer is then calculated using the determined thermal time constant and at least one of a thermal conductivity value, a specific thermal capacity of the layer, and a density of the layer. The method is applicable to human or animal skin. The calculation of the thickness of human skin (i.e. an exemplary layer) is used herein as an example only.

    [0008] The thickness analyzer unit 100 is placed against the skin 102 of a patient. The simplified skin 102 includes an epidermis layer 104a, a dermis layer 104b, and a hypodermis layer 104c (i.e. a fat layer). The epidermis layer 104a and the dermis layer 104b typically have about the same thickness at most of the locations on the body. Accordingly, an epidermis thickness of the epidermis layer 104a is a first constant value stored in the memory 120, and a dermis thickness of the dermis layer 104b is a second constant value stored in the memory 120. Moreover, the combined thickness of the epidermis layer 104a and the dermis layer 104b does not vary much from person to person. The hypodermis layer 104c, however, varies substantially from person to person and is also the thickest layer of the skin 102 at most locations of the body. A hypodermis thickness 106a of the hypodermis 104c depends on at least the selected body location, the gender, the weight, and the height of the person. Moreover, each of the epidermis layer 104a, the dermis layer 104b, and the hypodermis layer 104c are substantially continuous, meaning that there are no openings in the skin 102 by which the thickness of any of the layers 104a, 104b, 104c can be determined non-invasively, such as by a visual inspection. Accordingly, the dermis layer 104b completely covers the hypodermis layer 104c and the epidermis layer 104a completely covers the dermis layer 104b, such that the thickness of the layers 104a, 104b, 104c are completely obscured from view and cannot be determined without cutting the skin 102.

    [0009] The analyzer unit 100 is configured to determine a combined thickness 106b of the skin 102 (or the thickness of a layer of any other material) based on a thermal step response of the skin 102 or the material layer being analyzed. The step response is a change in temperature of the skin 102 in response to a thermal input, such as the thermal output of the TEG 122. Specifically, in one embodiment, the analyzer unit 100 determines the combined thickness 106b of the epidermis 104a, the dermis 104b, and the hypodermis 104c, which is also referred to herein as a total thickness. Moreover, the analyzer unit 100 may use the determined combined thickness 106b to calculate material parameters of the skin 102 such as a heat transfer coefficient of the skin 102, a thermal resistance of the skin 102, and a thermal capacity of the skin 102. The analyzer unit 100 estimates the combined thickness 106b quickly, accurately, and non-invasively. The analyzer unit 100 accurately estimates and/or calculates the combined thickness 106b for all types of patients independent of gender, weight, height, and body mass index.

    [0010] The thickness analyzer unit 100 includes a power supply 108, an input unit 110, a display 112, a sensor assembly 116, a memory unit 120, a thermoelectric generator 122, and a communication unit 170 operably connected to a controller 124. The power supply 108, the input unit 110, the display 112, the sensor assembly 116, the memory unit 120, the communication unit 170, and the controller 124 are each at least partially located within a housing 128. The housing 128 is configured to be gripped by a user during operation of the analyzer unit 100. The analyzer unit 100 is a handheld instrument that is lightweight, portable, and convenient to operate.

    [0011] The power supply 108, in one embodiment, includes a battery. For example, the power supply 108 is a rechargeable lithium polymer battery. Accordingly, the analyzer unit 100 is cordless in use and does not require a wired connection to a mains power supply. In other embodiments, the power supply 108 is provided as any other power source (e.g. an energy harvester with a power management circuit).

    [0012] The memory 120 of the analyzer unit 100 is an electronic data storage unit, which is also referred to herein as a non-transient computer readable medium. The memory 120 is configured to store program instruction data 138, layer thickness data 142, temperature data 146, time constant data 150, and other electronic data associated with operation of the analyzer unit 100.

    [0013] The input unit 110 is configured to receive input data via manipulation by a user. The input unit 110 may be configured as a touchscreen applied over the display 112 that is configured to enable a user to input data via the touch of a finger and/or a stylus. In another embodiment, the input unit 110 comprises any device configured to receive user inputs, as may be utilized by those of ordinary skill in the art, including e.g., one or more buttons, switches, keys, and/or the like.

    [0014] The display 112 is configured to display a visual representation of at least the thickness data 142. The display 112 may comprise a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel configured to display static and dynamic text, images, and other visually comprehensible data. The display 112, in another embodiment, is any display unit as desired by those of ordinary skill in the art.

    [0015] The thermoelectric generator 122, which is also referred to herein as a temperature change device and a heating/cooling thermoelectric generator ("TEG"), is configured to induce a temperature change of the layer by exhibiting a thermal output. The TEG 122 is configured to cool the skin 102 to be measured for thickness. In such an embodiment, the TEG 122 is applied directly to the skin 102 to induce a temperature change with the thermal output. Not according to the present invention, the TEG 122 may also be configured to heat/cool the ambient environment around the skin 102 using the thermal output, but without contacting the skin 102. In one embodiment, the ambient environment includes at least the environment surrounding the TEG 122, the housing 128, the air near the TEG 122, and/or clothing near the TEG 122. In the case of a human or animal patient, the TEG 122 cools the skin 102 with the thermal output but does not burn or otherwise harm the patient. In another embodiment, the TEG 122 is a separate instrument from the analyzer unit 100. Moreover, in some embodiments, the TEG 122 is configured to measure heat flux of the skin 102 and to generate heat flux data, which is stored in the memory 120.

    [0016] The controller 124 of the analyzer unit 100 is configured to execute the program instruction data 138 for controlling the sensor assembly 116 and determining/calculating the combined thickness 106b of the skin 102, which is stored as a thickness value of the thickness data 142 in the memory 120. The controller 124 is provided as a microprocessor, a processor, or any other type of electronic control chip.

    [0017] The sensor assembly 116 includes a temperature sensor 154 and a heat flux sensor 162. The temperature sensor 154 is configured to measure a temperature of the layer to be measured for thickness and to generate corresponding temperature data 146. In the exemplary embodiment, the temperature sensor 154 measures a temperature of the surface of the patient's skin 102. The temperature sensor 154 is typically configured for placement directly against the skin 102. The temperature sensor 154 generates an electrical temperature output signal based on the sensed temperature. The electrical temperature output signal is received by the controller 124 and includes the temperature data 146.

    [0018] The heat flux sensor 162 is configured to measure heat flux at the surface of the layer to be measured for thickness. In the exemplary embodiment, the heat flux sensor 162 measures the heat flux at the surface of the patient's skin 102. The heat flux sensor 162 is typically configured for placement directly against the skin 102. In one embodiment, "heat flux" corresponds to a measured heat rate divided by a surface area of the heat flux sensor 162. In the case of a human or an animal, heat rate corresponds to the rate at which the body radiates or loses heat. The heat flux sensor 162 generates an electrical flux output signal based on the sensed heat flux. The electrical flux output signal is received by the controller 124 and includes the heat flux data.

    [0019] The communication unit 170 is a wireless or wired data transceiver unit that is configured to transmit data to an end device 176 and to receive data from the end device 176. For example, the communication unit 170 is configured to transmit at least some of the electronic data stored in the memory 120 (i.e. the computed results, such as the thickness value of the thickness data 142) to the end device 176, which is provided as a smartphone or a PC. In some embodiments, instead of the controller 124 generating the thickness data 142, the end device 176 generates the thickness data 142 and transmits the thickness data 142 to the analyzer unit 100. In such an embodiment, the communication unit 170 receives the thickness data 142 from the end device 176. In a further embodiment, the thickness data 142 is generated in the cloud, transmitted to the analyzer unit 100, and received by the communication unit 170.

    [0020] With reference to FIG. 2, in one embodiment, heat transfer through the human body is based on an electrical circuit model 200 of a first order system. The model 200 includes a voltage source 204 electrically connected to a series connection of a skin resistor 208, a sensor resistor 212, an air resistor 216, and another voltage source 220. The voltage source 204 models the patient's body core temperature and the magnitude of the voltage of the voltage source 204 corresponds to the temperature generation/output of the patient's body. In one embodiment, the magnitude of the voltage source 204 corresponds to the patient's core body temperature.

    [0021] The skin resistor 208 exhibits an electrical resistance that corresponds to a thermal resistance of the patient's skin 102. The skin thermal resistance is a resistance of the patient's skin 102 to changes in temperature. The electrical resistance of the skin resistor 208 is based on a total thermal resistance of each layer of the patient's skin 102 including the epidermis 104a, the dermis 104b, and the hypodermis 104c.

    [0022] The sensor resistor 212 exhibits an electrical resistance that corresponds to a thermal resistance of the sensor assembly 116 to changes in temperature. The thermal resistance of the sensor assembly 116 is a resistance of the sensor assembly 116 to changes in temperature.

    [0023] The air resistor 216 exhibits an electrical resistance that corresponds to a thermal resistance of the air adjacent to the patient's skin 102. The air thermal resistance is a resistance of the air around the patient and the analyzer unit 100 to changes in temperature.

    [0024] The magnitude of the voltage source 220 corresponds to the temperature generation/output of the ambient area/environment surrounding the patient. The voltage sources 204, 220 oppose each other, such that voltage from the voltage source 204 opposes voltage from the voltage source 220.

    [0025] The model 200 approximates heat flow through the skin 102 accounting for three thermal resistances modeled by the skin resistor 208, the sensor resistor 212, and the air resistor 216. In one embodiment, the model 200 is illustrated as a static model that does not account for thermal capacities of the layers 104a, 104b, 104c of the skin 102. The model 200 is configurable to account for dynamic behavior by modeling the thermal capacity of at least the hypodermis 104c.

    [0026] As shown the following chart, for each electrical variable of the model 200 there is a corresponding thermal variable corresponding to the patient and/or the patient's environment.
    ThermalElectrical
    VariableSymbolUnitVariableSymbolUnit
    Temperature T K Voltage V V
    Heat Transfer Rate q w Current I A
    Heat Flux Q" W/m2 Current density J A/m2
    Thermal Resistance Rth K/W Resistance R Ω
    Thermal Capacity Cth Ws/K Capacitance C As/V


    [0027] According to the chart, temperature ("T") corresponds to voltage ("V"), heat transfer rate ("q") corresponds to electrical current ("I"), heat flux ("Q"") corresponds to electrical current density ("J"), thermal resistance ("Rth") corresponds to electrical resistance ("R"), and thermal capacity ("Cth") corresponds to electrical capacity ("C"). The electrical model 200 and the thermal equivalents are manipulated below in order to determine a thermal time constant value ("τ") of the skin 102 or the layer to be measured for thickness. The thermal time constant value ("τ") is used with at least one of a thermal conductivity value ("k"), a specific thermal capacity value ("cp"), and a density value ("p") of the skin 102 to calculate the combined thickness 106b (i.e. a thickness value of the thickness data 142) with the controller 124. In an embodiment, the thermal conductivity value ("k"), the specific thermal capacity value ("cp"), and the density value ("p") of the skin 102 are assumed to have constant values for all patients, since the composition of the skin 102 is substantially the same across all patients. The thermal time constant value ("τ") is based on the time required to heat or cool a material by 63.2% from an initial temperature to a different temperature. The percentage is an approximation defined as (1-e-1), where ("e") is Euler's number, which is a constant.

    [0028] Based on the above chart and model, Ohm's law is written using the corresponding thermal variables. To begin, using electrical variables, Ohm's law solved for electrical current can be written as equation (1).

    Replacing the electrical variables in equation (1) with the corresponding thermal variables from the chart yields equation (2), which determines the heat transfer rate.

    Moreover, electrical current density is written as shown in equation (3).

    Replacing the electrical variables in equation (3) with the corresponding thermal variables yields equation (4), which is an equation used to determine heat flux in a thermal system, since in the model 200 electrical current density corresponds to the heat flux. The Area variable is a surface area and is the same in both the electrical variables and the thermal variables. Typically, the Area variable corresponds to a surface area of the area being measured for thickness/temperature. Also, the Area may be the area sensed by the heat flux sensor 162.



    [0029] For each material layer (i.e. layers 104a, 104b, 104c of the skin 102, for example) a thermal resistance can be calculated with equation (5a).

    In equation (5a), Δx corresponds to a thickness value of the thickness data 142 of the material layer and k corresponds to a thermal conductivity value of the layer.

    [0030] The thermal capacity of each material layer (i.e. layers 104a, 104b, 104c of the skin 102, for example) can be calculated with equation (5b).

    In equation (5b), cp corresponds to specific thermal capacity value and ρ corresponds to a density value of the layer.

    [0031] The heat flux sensor 162 is configured to measure the heat flux Q" through the sensor assembly 116 at the surface of the skin 102 (or the surface of the layer to be measured for thickness). In one embodiment, a simplification is made that the heat flow through the skin 102 and the sensor assembly 116 is only perpendicular to the skin layer 102, and that the heat flux through the skin 102 equals the heat flux through the heat flux sensor 162. Based on the above, a temperature difference (i.e. a change in temperature) across the skin 102 is modeled by equation (6).

    In equation (6), ΔT is the change in temperature between two physical locations at the same instance in time, Tc is the core body temperature, and Ts is the surface temperature of the skin 102. Core body temperature is the temperature of the internal environment of the body of the patient. A normal core body temperature of a human is about 37°C. Typically, the core body temperature is greater than the surface temperature of the skin 102. The core body temperature can be calculated with the following equation (7).



    [0032] In equation (7), the change in temperature ΔT has been replaced with the heat flux through the sensor assembly 116 (i.e. Q") divided by a heat transfer coefficient of the skin ("hs"). The heat transfer coefficient of the skin (hs) depends on the thermal conductivity of the skin 102 (i.e. one over the thermal resistance of the skin 102) and the area through which the heat flux is measured (i.e. the Area). Based on the model 200 and various other equations set forth below, the time constant value ("τ") of the skin 102 can be determined, which is used to calculate the combined thickness 106b.

    [0033] In operation, the analyzer unit 100 estimates/calculates the thickness value of a layer of a system according to a method 300 illustrated by the flowchart of FIG. 3. As set forth below, the analyzer unit 100 determines and analyses a thermal step response of the skin 102 based on the electrical model 200 of heat transfer through the human body.

    [0034] As shown in block 304, the analyzer unit 100 measures a surface temperature of the layer to be measured for thickness. In particular, the analyzer unit 100 uses the temperature sensor 154 to measure a surface temperature of the skin 102. The measured surface temperature of the skin 102 is stored in the memory 120 as the temperature data 146 and is referred to herein as either a start temperature T1, a first temperature value at a first time, or a first temperature data stored in the memory 120.

    [0035] Next in block 308, the analyzer unit 100 induces a step response in the skin 102 or the material to be measured for thickness. In one embodiment, the TEG 122 is used to induce the temperature change of the layer by warming or cooling the skin 102, thereby causing the skin 102 to change from the start temperature T1 to a settled temperature T2 (i.e. a second temperature value at a second time). In another embodiment, the step response is caused by changing the ambient temperature of the air surrounding the skin 102 if the skin 102 is exposed to the surrounding air. These methods are suitable for inducing the step response of any object where the core temperature is substantially constant, such as the human body. A "substantially constant" core temperature is a core temperature having a thermal time constant that is at least twenty times greater than the thermal time constant of the layer being measured. The step response can also be externally applied, e.g. with a heating/cooling element.

    [0036] Following inducement of the step response, in block 312 the analyzer unit 100 uses the temperature sensor 154 to make a series of temperature measurements in order to determine the step response. In one embodiment, the analyzer unit 100 measures again the surface temperature of the skin 102 (at least once and typically numerous times) after the step response. The measured surface temperature of the skin 102 after the step response is stored in the memory 120 as the temperature data 146 and is referred to herein as either a settled temperature T2, a second temperature value, or as second temperature data stored in the memory 120 as the temperature data 146. The settled temperature T2 is different from the start temperature T1.

    [0037] The step response of the electrical model 200 of FIG. 2 is described with an exponential function. As applied to a corresponding thermal system, such as the skin 102, the temperature of the skin 102 is described by the following equation (8).

    In equation (8), T is the temperature as dependent on time, t is the time, T1 is the start temperature, T2 is the settled temperature, and dT is a temperature difference equal to T2 - T1.

    [0038] FIG. 4 illustrates a temperature measurement of the skin 102 in response to the step response. In FIG. 4, the time axis is normalized over the time constant τ. The temperature axis is normalized over the settled temperature T2 and the start temperature T1 equals 0.

    [0039] In block 316, the analyzer unit 100 determines the thermal time constant value ("τ") of the thermal system (e.g. the skin 102) and stores the time constant value as the time constant data 150 in the memory 120. Corresponding to an electrical system, the thermal time constant value ("τ") of a dynamic system can be determined by measuring the temperature step response in response to a quick temperature change. Since, in this example, only one skin layer is considered (e.g. the combined thickness 106b), the skin 102 is approximated as a first order system with one thermal resistance and one specific thermal capacity for the skin 102.

    [0040] Since the skin 102 is modeled to have only one layer, the thermal time constant can be calculated by the following equation (9).

    The variables in equation (9) are described above in equations (5a) and (5b). Performing the appropriate substitution in equation (9) yields the following equation (10) representing the time constant.



    [0041] In practice, equation (10) provides at least two methods for determining the time constant value using the controller 124 of the analyzer unit 100. In both of the methods the step response is known including the start temperature T1 and the settled temperature T2. In a first method for determining the time constant, after a predetermined time period equal to the time constant (i.e. (t = τ)), the temperature of the system is 63.2 % from the start temperature T1 to the settled temperature T2 (see FIG. 4). Thus, the time constant value is simply read from a plot of the temperature data. Accordingly, with the start temperature T1 and the settled temperature T2 known, the temperature of the skin 102 which is 63.2% from the start temperature T1 to the settled temperature T2 can be calculated as follows from equation (11).



    [0042] In a second method for determining the time constant after the predetermined time period in which t = τ, a tangent of the temperature step response at t = 0 reaches the value of the settled temperature T2, as shown in FIG. 4. Therefore, the slope of the tangent m multiplied by the time constant value equals the steady state value of the temperature. Accordingly, using this method the time constant value can be calculated as follows from equation (12).



    [0043] Another method to calculate the time constant value uses an exponential function, which describes the temperature step response of the skin 102. One point on the step response (tx, Tx) before the graph starts to settle, is known. The exponential function is shown below as equation (13).

    In this method, the analyzer unit 100 determines the values tx, Tx, the start temperature T1, and the temperature difference dT, and calculates the time constant according to equation (14).



    [0044] In yet another embodiment, the time constant value is generated based at least in part on the measured heat flux as determined by the heat flux sensor 162 (i.e. the heat flux data).

    [0045] With reference again to FIG. 3, after determining the time constant value with the controller 124, in block 320 the analyzer unit 100 calculates the combined thickness 106b of the skin 102 or the material to be measured. Specifically, the analyzer unit 100 calculates the combined thickness 106b using equation (15), which is based on the determined time constant ("τ"), the thermal conductivity value ("k"), the specific thermal capacity value ("cp"), and the density value ("ρ").

    After calculating the combined thickness 106b, the combined thickness 106b is stored in the memory 120 as the thickness data 150. In one embodiment, the thickness data 150 is stored as data corresponding to a thickness of the combined thickness 106b in millimeters, for example. An exemplary combined thickness 106b is ten millimeters (10mm). In another embodiment, the thickness data 150 is stored as a proportional representation of the combined thickness 106b. For example, a thickness value of the combined thickness 106b is a number from zero to 255, with zero corresponding to zero millimeters and 255 corresponding to ten millimeters (10mm). Any other proportional representation may be used for the thickness data 150 depending on the embodiment.

    [0046] In another embodiment, the system (e.g. the human body) is modeled as a 3rd order system instead of a 1st order system. In such an embodiment, the skin 102 may be modeled using a thermal resistance value and a thermal capacity value for each of the three skin layers 104a, 104b, 104c. Since the epidermis 104a and the dermis 104b are mostly constant in thickness across humans, these constant thicknesses are subtracted from the combined thickness 106b to calculate the hypodermis thickness value 106a.

    [0047] With reference to FIG. 5, in another embodiment, the combined thickness 106b is determined without inducing the temperature step response. For example, one approach is to apply a known arbitrary temperature progression, while the surface temperature of the skin 102 is measured by the temperature sensor 154. The arbitrary temperature can be applied directly or indirectly. Moreover, the arbitrary temperature progression can be a passive temperature progression. That is, a change in the ambient temperature, which is measured. In such an embodiment, a corresponding transfer function may be described with an exponential function or functions of higher order systems. Since the transfer function with the input temperature (i.e. the ambient temperature) and the output temperature (i.e. the surface temperature) are known, the thermal time constant can be determined. In this embodiment, the input temperature progression changes fast enough to allow the determination of the time constant. Thus, in this embodiment, the input temperature equals a change in the ambient temperature, and the output temperature equals the surface temperature.

    [0048] The analyzer unit 100 may use the determined combined thickness 106b and the thermal conductivity value ("k") to determine the heat transfer coefficient of the skin 102 ("h") according to equation (16). Thereafter, the analyzer unit 100 may calculate the core body temperature using at least the heat transfer coefficient of the skin.



    [0049] As noted throughout this disclosure, the methods, embodiments, and concepts are not only applicable to determining the thickness of the skin 102, but also the thickness of a layer of any material. This includes layers that are substantially continuous and for which the thickness cannot be determined by visual inspection. To this end, the temperature sensor 154 of the analyzer unit 100, which measures surface temperature, is selected to have a faster time response (i.e. a first time response) in response to the thermal output of the TEG 122 than a second time response of the material(s) to be measured in response to the thermal output, such that the analyzer unit 100 may monitor the induced temperature step response. Typically, the material to be measured has a comparatively small thickness against the surface area, so it is considered as a layer. When this condition is met, the assumption that heat transfer is only perpendicular to the area of the material is met.

    [0050] The analyzer unit 100 is an improvement to computer functionality because, as compared to prior devices, the analyzer unit 100 determines the thickness of a layer more quickly, more accurately, and with a less complicated processing approach. Some prior devices use an ultrasound approach, for example, that is expensive and complicated to operate. Moreover, ultrasound thickness measuring devices are limited to only certain types of systems. Whereas, in comparison, the analyzer unit 100 is simple and fast to operate and can determine the thickness of any layer that is part of a system that exhibits a substantially constant core temperature. Other prior thickness measuring devices use a resonant frequency approach and must be placed on a suitably flat metal surface and, therefore, cannot be used to measure the thickness of a biological layer, such as the skin 102.


    Claims

    1. A thickness analyzer unit (100) for determining a thickness of a layer (102), comprising:

    a temperature change device (122) configured to induce a temperature change of the layer (102) from a first temperature value at a first time to a second temperature value at a second time, the first temperature value different from the second temperature value;

    a temperature sensor (154) configured to generate first temperature data corresponding to the first temperature value and second temperature data corresponding to the second temperature value;

    a memory (120) configured to store the first temperature value, the second temperature value, a thermal conductivity value of the layer (102), a specific thermal capacity value of the layer (102), and a density value of the layer (102); and

    a controller (124) operatively connected to the temperature change device (122), the temperature sensor (154), and the memory (120), the controller (124) configured (i) to determine a time constant value of the layer (102) based on the first temperature value and the second temperature value, and (ii) to determine the thickness of the layer (102) based on the determined time constant, the thermal conductivity value, the specific thermal capacity value, and the density value,

    wherein the thickness of the layer (102) is stored in the memory (120) as a thickness value, and

    the temperature change device (122) is a thermoelectric generator configured to cool the layer (102) to induce the temperature change,

    wherein the temperature change device (122) is configured to be applied directly to the layer (102) to induce the temperature change,

    wherein the layer (102) is human skin or animal skin.


     
    2. The thickness analyzer unit (100) of claim 1, wherein:

    the layer (102) is human skin having an epidermis layer (104a), a dermis layer (104b), and a hypodermis layer (104c),

    an epidermis thickness of the epidermis layer (104a) is a first constant value stored in the memory (120),

    a dermis thickness of the dermis layer (104b) is a second constant value stored in the memory (120),

    the controller (124) is further configured to determine a hypodermis thickness value of the hypodermis layer (104c) by subtracting the first constant and the second constant from the thickness value, and

    the hypodermis thickness value is stored in the memory (120).


     
    3. The thickness analyzer unit (100) of claim 1, wherein:

    the temperature change device (122) exhibits a thermal output that changes the temperature of the layer (102) to induce the temperature change,

    the temperature sensor (154) has a first time response in response to the thermal output,

    the layer (102) has a second time response in response to the thermal output, and

    the first time response is less than the second time response.


     
    4. The thickness analyzer unit (100) of claim 1, wherein the time constant corresponds to a time required to change a temperature of the layer (102) by 63.2% from the first temperature value to the second temperature value.
     
    5. The thickness analyzer unit (100) of claim 1, wherein the layer (102) is substantially continuous and the thickness of the layer (102) cannot be determined by a visual inspection.
     
    6. The thickness analyzer unit (100) of claim 1, wherein:

    the controller (124) is configured to determine the thickness value according to the following relationship

    Δx corresponds to the thickness value,

    τ corresponds to the time constant value,

    k corresponds to the thermal conductivity value,

    cp corresponds to the specific thermal capacity, and

    ρ corresponds to the density value.


     
    7. A method for determining a thickness of a layer (102) with a thickness analyzer unit (100), comprising:

    measuring a first temperature value of the layer (102) with a temperature sensor (154) of the thickness analyzer unit (100) at a first time;

    inducing a temperature change of the layer (102) with a temperature change device (122) of the thickness analyzer unit (100);

    measuring a second temperature value of the layer (102) with the temperature sensor (154) after inducing the temperature change at a second time;

    determining a time constant value of the layer (102) based on the measured first temperature value and the measured second temperature value with a controller (124) of the thickness analyzer unit (100);

    storing a thermal conductivity value of the layer (102), a specific thermal capacity value of the layer (102), and a density value of the layer (102) in a memory (120) of the thickness analyzer unit (100); and

    determining a thickness value corresponding to the thickness of the layer (102) based on the determined time constant value, the thermal conductivity value, the specific thermal capacity value, and the density value with the controller (124),

    wherein the step of inducing the temperature change of the layer (102) comprises:

    cooling the layer (102) with the temperature change device (122) of the thickness analyzer unit (100) applied directly to the layer (102),

    wherein the layer (102) is human skin or animal skin.


     
    8. The method as claimed in claim 7, wherein:

    the layer (102) is human skin having an epidermis layer (104a), a dermis layer (104b), and a hypodermis layer (104c),

    the method further comprises:

    storing a first constant value corresponding to a thickness of the epidermis layer (104a) in the memory (120);

    storing a second constant value corresponding to a thickness of the dermis layer (104b) in the memory (120);

    determining a hypodermis thickness value corresponding to a thickness of the hypodermis layer (104c) by subtracting the first constant and the second constant from the thickness value with the controller (124); and

    storing the hypodermis thickness value in the memory(120).


     
    9. The method as claimed in claim 7, wherein the layer (102) is substantially continuous and the thickness of the layer (102) cannot be determined by a visual inspection.
     
    10. The method as claimed in claim 7, wherein:

    the controller (124) is configured to determine the thickness value according to the following relationship

    Δx corresponds to the thickness value,

    τ corresponds to the time constant value,

    k corresponds to the thermal conductivity value,

    cp corresponds to the specific thermal capacity, and

    ρ corresponds to the density value.


     


    Ansprüche

    1. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) zum Bestimmen der Dicke einer Schicht (102), wobei die Dickenanalysatoreinheit umfasst:

    eine Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122), die so ausgebildet ist, dass sie eine Temperaturänderung der Schicht (102) von einem ersten Temperaturwert an einem ersten Zeitpunkt zu einem zweiten Temperaturwert an einem zweiten Zeitpunkt induziert, wobei sich der erste Temperaturwert von dem zweiten Temperaturwert unterscheidet;

    einen Temperatursensor (154), der so ausgebildet ist, dass er erste Temperaturdaten, die dem ersten Temperaturwert entsprechen, und zweite Temperaturdaten, die dem zweiten Temperaturwert entsprechen, erzeugt;

    einen Speicher (120), der so ausgebildet ist, dass er den ersten Temperaturwert, den zweiten Temperaturwert, einen Wärmeleitfähigkeitswert der Schicht (102), einen Wert einer spezifischen Wärmekapazität der Schicht (102) und einen Dichtewert der Schicht (102) speichert; und

    einen Controller (124), der mit der Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122), dem Temperatursensor (154) und dem Speicher (120) wirkverbunden ist, wobei der Controller (124) so ausgebildet ist, dass er (i) einen Zeitkonstantenwert der Schicht (102) auf der Grundlage des ersten Temperaturwertes und des zweiten Temperaturwertes bestimmt und (ii) die Dicke der Schicht (102) auf der Grundlage der bestimmten Zeitkonstante, des Wärmeleitfähigkeitswertes, des Wertes der spezifischen Wärmekapazität und des Dichtewertes bestimmt,

    wobei die Dicke der Schicht (102) in dem Speicher (120) als ein Dickenwert gespeichert wird, und

    die Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122) ein thermoelektrischer Generator ist, der so ausgebildet ist, dass er die Schicht (102) kühlt, um die Temperaturänderung zu induzieren,

    wobei die Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122) so ausgebildet ist, dass sie direkt auf die Schicht (102) aufgebracht wird, um die Temperaturänderung zu induzieren,

    wobei die Schicht (102) menschliche oder tierische Haut ist.


     
    2. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) nach Anspruch 1, wobei:

    die Schicht (102) menschliche Haut ist, die eine Epidermisschicht (104a), eine Dermisschicht (104b) und eine Hypodermisschicht (104c) aufweist,

    eine Epidermisdicke der Epidermisschicht (104a) ein erster konstanter Wert ist, der in dem Speicher (120) gespeichert ist,

    eine Dermisdicke der Dermisschicht (104b) ein zweiter konstanter Wert ist, der in dem Speicher (120) gespeichert ist,

    der Controller (124) des Weiteren so ausgebildet ist, dass er einen Hypodermisdickenwert der Hypodermisschicht (104c) bestimmt, indem er die erste Konstante und die zweite Konstante von dem Dickenwert subtrahiert, und

    der Hypodermisdickenwert in dem Speicher (120) gespeichert ist.


     
    3. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) nach Anspruch 1, wobei:

    die Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122) eine Wärmeabgabe aufweist, welche die Temperatur der Schicht (102) ändert, um die Temperaturänderung zu induzieren,

    der Temperatursensor (154) eine erste Ansprechzeit in Reaktion auf die Wärmeabgabe aufweist, die Schicht (102) eine zweite Ansprechzeit in Reaktion auf die Wärmeabgabe aufweist, und die erste Ansprechzeit kürzer als die zweite Ansprechzeit ist.


     
    4. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Zeitkonstante einer Zeit entspricht, die erforderlich ist, um eine Temperatur der Schicht (102) um 63,2 % von dem ersten Temperaturwert zu dem zweiten Temperaturwert zu ändern.
     
    5. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Schicht (102) im Wesentlichen kontinuierlich ist und die Dicke der Schicht (102) nicht durch eine Sichtprüfung bestimmt werden kann.
     
    6. Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) nach Anspruch 1, wobei:

    der Controller (124) so ausgebildet ist, dass er den Dickenwert gemäß der folgenden Beziehung bestimmt:

    Δx dem Dickenwert entspricht,

    τ dem Zeitkonstantenwert entspricht,

    k dem Wärmeleitfähigkeitswert entspricht,

    Cp der spezifischen Wärmekapazität entspricht und

    ρ dem Dichtewert entspricht.


     
    7. Verfahren zum Bestimmen einer Dicke einer Schicht (102) mit einer Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100), wobei das Verfahren umfasst:

    Messen eines ersten Temperaturwertes der Schicht (102) mit einem Temperatursensor (154) der Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100) an einem ersten Zeitpunkt;

    Induzieren einer Temperaturänderung der Schicht (102) mit einer Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122) der Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100);

    Messen eines zweiten Temperaturwertes der Schicht (102) mit dem Temperatursensor (154) nach dem Induzieren der Temperaturänderung an einem zweiten Zeitpunkt;

    Bestimmen eines Zeitkonstantenwertes der Schicht (102) auf der Grundlage des gemessenen ersten Temperaturwertes und des gemessenen zweiten Temperaturwertes mit einem Controller (124) der Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100);

    Speichern eines Wärmeleitfähigkeitswertes der Schicht (102), eines Wertes einer spezifischen Wärmekapazität der Schicht (102) und eines Dichtewertes der Schicht (102) in einem Speicher (120) der Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100); und

    Bestimmen eines Dickenwertes, welcher der Dicke der Schicht (102) entspricht, auf der Grundlage des bestimmten Zeitkonstantenwertes, des Wärmeleitfähigkeitswertes, des spezifischen Wärmekapazitätswertes und des Dichtewertes mit dem Controller (124),

    wobei der Schritt des Induzierens der Temperaturänderung der Schicht (102) umfasst:

    Kühlen der Schicht (102) mit der Temperaturänderungsvorrichtung (122) der Dickenanalysatoreinheit (100), die direkt auf die Schicht (102) aufgebracht wird,

    wobei die Schicht (102) menschliche oder tierische Haut ist.


     
    8. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, wobei:

    die Schicht (102) menschliche Haut ist, die eine Epidermisschicht (104a), eine Dermisschicht (104b) und eine Hypodermisschicht (104c) aufweist,

    wobei das Verfahren des Weiteren umfasst:

    Speichern eines ersten Konstantenwertes, der einer Dicke der Epidermisschicht (104a) entspricht, in dem Speicher (120);

    Speichern eines zweiten Konstantenwertes, der einer Dicke der Dermisschicht (104b) entspricht, in dem Speicher (120);

    Bestimmen eines Hypodermisdickenwertes, der einer Dicke der Hypodermisschicht (104c) entspricht, durch Subtrahieren der ersten Konstante und der zweiten Konstante von dem Dickenwert mit dem Controller (124);

    und

    Speichern des Hypodermisdickenwertes in dem Speicher (120) .


     
    9. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, wobei die Schicht (102) im Wesentlichen kontinuierlich ist und die Dicke der Schicht (102) nicht durch eine Sichtprüfung bestimmt werden kann.
     
    10. Verfahren nach Anspruch 7, wobei:

    der Controller (124) so ausgebildet ist, dass er den Dickenwert gemäß der folgenden Beziehung bestimmt:

    Δx dem Dickenwert entspricht,

    τ dem Zeitkonstantenwert entspricht,

    k dem Wärmeleitfähigkeitswert entspricht,

    Cp der spezifischen Wärmekapazität entspricht und

    ρ dem Dichtewert entspricht.


     


    Revendications

    1. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) permettant de déterminer l'épaisseur d'une couche (102), comprenant :

    un dispositif de variation de température (122) configuré pour induire une variation de température de la couche (102), d'une première valeur de température à un premier instant à une seconde valeur de température à un second instant, la première valeur de température étant différente de la seconde valeur de température ;

    un capteur de température (154) configuré pour générer des premières données de température correspondant à la première valeur de température et des secondes données de température correspondant à la seconde valeur de température ;

    une mémoire (120) configurée pour stocker la première valeur de température, la seconde valeur de température, une valeur de conductivité thermique de la couche (102), une valeur de capacité thermique spécifique de la couche (102), et une valeur de densité de la couche (102) ; et

    un dispositif de commande (124) fonctionnellement connecté au dispositif de variation de température (122), au capteur de température (154) et à la mémoire (120), le dispositif de commande (124) étant configuré (i) pour déterminer une valeur de constante de temps de la couche (102) sur la base de la première valeur de température et de la seconde valeur de température, et (ii) pour déterminer l'épaisseur de la couche (102) sur la base de la constante de temps déterminée, de la valeur de conductivité thermique, de la valeur de capacité thermique spécifique et de la valeur de densité, dans lequel l'épaisseur de la couche (102) est stockée dans la mémoire (120) en tant que valeur d'épaisseur, et le dispositif de variation de température (122) est un générateur thermoélectrique configuré pour refroidir la couche (102) afin d'induire la variation de température, dans lequel le dispositif de variation de température (122) est configuré pour être appliqué directement sur la couche (102) afin d'induire la variation de température,

    dans lequel la couche (102) est de la peau humaine ou de la peau animale.


     
    2. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel :

    la couche (102) est de la peau humaine comportant une couche d'épiderme (104a), une couche de derme (104b) et une couche d'hypoderme (104c),

    une épaisseur d'épiderme de la couche d'épiderme (104a) est une première valeur de constante stockée dans la mémoire (120),

    une épaisseur de derme de la couche de derme (104b) est une seconde valeur de constante stockée dans la mémoire (120),

    le dispositif de commande (124) est configuré en outre pour déterminer une valeur d'épaisseur d'hypoderme de la couche d'hypoderme (104c) en soustrayant la première constante et la seconde constante de la valeur d'épaisseur, et

    la valeur d'épaisseur d'hypoderme est stockée dans la mémoire (120).


     
    3. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel :

    le dispositif de variation de température (122) présente une sortie thermique qui modifie la température de la couche (102) afin d'induire la variation de température,

    le capteur de température (154) a un premier temps de réponse en réponse à la sortie thermique,

    la couche (102) a un second temps de réponse en réponse à la sortie thermique, et

    le premier temps de réponse est inférieur au second temps de réponse.


     
    4. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la constante de temps correspond à un temps requis pour faire varier la température de la couche (102) de 63,2 %, de la première valeur de température à la seconde valeur de température.
     
    5. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la couche (102) est sensiblement continue et l'épaisseur de la couche (102) ne peut pas être déterminée par un examen visuel.
     
    6. Unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel :

    le dispositif de commande (124) est configuré pour déterminer la valeur d'épaisseur en fonction de la relation suivante :

    Δx correspond à la valeur d'épaisseur,

    τ correspond à la valeur de constante de temps,

    k correspond à la valeur de conductivité thermique,

    cp correspond à la capacité thermique spécifique, et

    ρ correspond à la valeur de densité.


     
    7. Procédé permettant de déterminer l'épaisseur d'une couche (102) à l'aide d'une unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100), comprenant les étapes suivantes :

    mesurer une première valeur de température de la couche (102) à l'aide d'un capteur de température (154) de l'unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) à un premier instant ;

    induire une variation de température de la couche (102) à l'aide d'un dispositif de variation de température (122) de l'unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) ;

    mesurer une seconde valeur de température de la couche (102) à l'aide du capteur de température (154) après avoir induit la variation de température à un second instant ;

    déterminer une valeur de constante de temps de la couche (102) sur la base de la première valeur de température mesurée et de la seconde valeur de température mesurée, à l'aide d'un dispositif de commande (124) de l'unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) ;

    stocker une valeur de conductivité thermique de la couche (102), une valeur de capacité thermique spécifique de la couche (102) et une valeur de densité de la couche (102) dans une mémoire (120) de l'unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) ; et

    déterminer une valeur d'épaisseur correspondant à l'épaisseur de la couche (102), sur la base de la valeur de constante de temps déterminée, de la valeur de conductivité thermique, de la valeur de capacité thermique spécifique et de la valeur de densité, à l'aide du dispositif de commande (124),

    dans lequel l'étape consistant à induire la variation de température de la couche (102) comprend l'étape suivante :

    refroidir la couche (102) à l'aide du dispositif de variation de température (122) de l'unité d'analyseur d'épaisseur (100) appliqué directement sur la couche (102),

    dans lequel la couche (102) est de la peau humaine ou de la peau animale.


     
    8. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel :

    la couche (102) est de la peau humaine comportant une couche d'épiderme (104a), une couche de derme (104b) et une couche d'hypoderme (104c),

    le procédé comprend en outre les étapes suivantes :

    stocker une première valeur de constante correspondant à une épaisseur de la couche d'épiderme (104a) dans la mémoire (120) ;

    stocker une seconde valeur de constante correspondant à une épaisseur de la couche de derme (104b) dans la mémoire (120) ;

    déterminer une valeur d'épaisseur d'hypoderme correspondant à une épaisseur de la couche d'hypoderme (104c) en soustrayant la première constante et la seconde constante de la valeur d'épaisseur à l'aide du dispositif de commande (124) ; et

    stocker la valeur d'épaisseur d'hypoderme dans la mémoire (120).


     
    9. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel la couche (102) est sensiblement continue et l'épaisseur de la couche (102) ne peut pas être déterminée par un examen visuel.
     
    10. Procédé selon la revendication 7, dans lequel :

    le dispositif de commande (124) est configuré pour déterminer la valeur d'épaisseur en fonction de la relation suivante :

    Δx correspond à la valeur d'épaisseur,

    τ correspond à la valeur de constante de temps,

    k correspond à la valeur de conductivité thermique,

    cp correspond à la capacité thermique spécifique, et

    ρ correspond à la valeur de densité.


     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



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    Patent documents cited in the description