Body Area Networks: medical monitoring on the move

Paul Raven @ 11-10-2010

The Body Area Network shouldn’t be an entirely new idea to regular readers, but for those of you new to the term, it does what it says on the tin, i.e. networks together an assortment of gadgets and devices located on or in the human body. Those devices can be pretty much anything that produces or processes a signal… so as well as the potential for augmenting yourself into a Stephensonian gargoyle, you can also turn the electronic eye inwards by rigging up systems to monitor your internal organs and send the data to your phone:

Dubbed the Human++ BAN platform, the system converts IMEC’s ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors into wireless nodes in a short-range network, transmitting physiological data to a hub – the patient’s cellphone. From there, the readings can be forwarded to doctors via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. They can also be displayed on the phone or sound an alarm when things are about to go wrong, giving patients like me a chance to try to slow our heart rates and avoid an unnecessary shock.

Julien Penders, who developed the system, says it can also work with other low-power medical sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor neurological conditions or electromyograms to detect neuromuscular diseases. Besides helping those already diagnosed with chronic conditions, BANs could be used by people at risk of developing medical problems – the so-called “worried well” – or by fitness enthusiasts and athletes who want to keep tabs on their physiological processes during training.

Lots of street uses, too, once this stuff gets cheap (which shouldn’t take long). For instance, we humans tend to get competitive about pretty much anything that can be measured and recorded, so perhaps we’ll get forums devoted to people pushing their bodies to extremes – be it through drug use, extreme sports or even epic-scale lassitude – and posting the evidence. Whole lot of new (and weird) categories for the Guinness Book of Records coming down the pipeline…

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