Doctors could soon stream real-time high definition videos through your body. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently used store-bought meat to demonstrate just how well ultrasonic communication works through tissue. Most of today’s medical devices use radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic waves to communicate through the body, but this method isn’t ideal because of bandwidth limitations and signal loss. Sending data through the body poses similar challenges to underwater communication, since salt water makes up a significant percentage of soft tissues. In the body, just like in the ocean, sonic signals are more reliable than RF waves.
Andrew Singer, whose research specialty is signal processing, explained:
Using ultrasonic signals, we envision the ability to not only control implanted medical devices in the body but to provide live streaming of high-definition video from devices inside the body. You can imagine a device that is swallowed for the purposes of imaging the digestive tract but with the capability for the HD video to be continuously streamed live to an external screen and the orientation of the device controlled wirelessly and externally by the physician. This may seem like science fiction today, but at the root of science fiction are questions about what is possible. We wanted to show that it was possible. Engineering is about always reaching toward that adjacent possible.
What is possible, according to their experiments, is transmitting data through the body at rates higher than 30Mbps, which is good enough for medical providers to stream high definition videos and wirelessly operate and control small devices within the body. A few of the many potential applications include: implanted pacemakers and defibrillators, glucose monitors and insulin pumps, intracranial pressure sensors, epilepsy control, and ingestible cameras for imaging the digestive track. Michael Oelze, another Illinois researcher, said:
This work explores the use of such methods for communications through tissue for potential biomedical applications, using the tremendous bandwidth available in commercial medical ultrasound transducers. The increased demand for these devices and the opening up of new applications for implanted medical devices will continue to amplify the role of these devices for patient care and management of disease.
The researchers described their ultrasonic technology in a paper that posted on the open access website arXiv.org. They have received a provisional patent application and will present their findings at the 17th IEEE International Workshop on Signal Processing Advances in Wireless Communications, this July in Edinburgh, UK.
Source: Engineering at Illinois