Sunday, February 07, 2010

Integrating life and technology with body-area networks

Long before brain computer interfaces (BCIs) and brain co-processors are available, acceptable, and appropriate for general enhancement use, body-area networks (BANs) could be a key means of integrating life and technology. Processing and communications could be brought on-board the person for medical, consumer electronics, entertainment, and other applications. At present, BANs consist of one or a few wearable or implanted biosensors gathering basic biological data and transmitting it wirelessly to a computer. The IEEE’s BAN communication standards protocol is 802.15.6.

Medical BANs

  • Toumaz: wireless digital plaster; externally-worn disposable medical BANs for measuring blood pH, glucose, oxygen levels, and temperature
  • CardioMEMs: implantable wireless sensing devices less than one tenth the size of a dime for monitoring heart failure, aneurysms, and hypertension
Consumer BANs
A consumer application of BANs is health activity monitors such as the FitBit, DirectL ife, and WIN Human Recorder, and to some extent smart phones. All contain accelerometers that can measure movement and activity.

The next phases of BANs could be enabled by continued electronics miniaturization and next-generation communications networks (WiMAX, 4G, and beyond). In the farther future, BANs could include larger more complex networks of intercommunicating sensors and eventually autonomous sensors with two-way broadcast.

Biocompatibility and bandwidth are important concerns for human-machine integration interfaces, particularly implanted interfaces. However, the biggest challenge is energy, providing adequate ongoing power to devices. Several interesting methods of power generation are being investigated including thermal, vibrational, radio frequency (RF), photovoltaic (PV), and bio-chemical energy. ATP could possibly provide power to implanted devices, for example using DNA nanotechnology to synthesize ATP with nanoscale rotary motors, or nanodevices to produce ATP from naturally circulating glucose.

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