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A new on-chip RC-based transient detection circuit for system-level electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection is proposed, which can detect fast electrical transients during the system-level ESD test. A novel on-chip transient-to-digital converter composed of four RC-based transient detection circuits and four different RC filter networks has been successfully designed and verified in a 0.18- mum CMOS process with 3.3-V devices. The output digital thermometer codes of the proposed on-chip transient-to-digital converter correspond to different ESD voltages under system-level ESD tests. The proposed on-chip transient-to-digital converter can be further combined with firmware cooperation to provide an effective solution to solve the system-level ESD protection issue in microelectronic systems equipped with CMOS ICs.