Wireless Body Sensors Use Sonar

The military has for decades used sonar for underwater communications. Researchers at SUNY at Buffalo are developing a miniaturized version of the same technology to be applied inside the human body to treat diseases such as diabetes and heart failure in real-time.

Wirelessly networked systems of intra-body sensors and actuators could enable revolutionary applications that would advance medical treatment for major diseases. Yet most research has focused on communications along the body surface among devices interconnected through traditional electromagnetic RF waves. So far, enabling networked intra-body miniaturized sensors and actuators that communicate through body tissues is substantially unaddressed.

According to the Principal Investigator on the project “Towards Ultrasonic Networking for Implantable Biomedical Device”, Tommaso Melodia PhD, UB Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, reports that radio waves can be effective but they generate heat. Also, because radio waves propagate poorly through skin, muscle, and other body tissue, they require relatively large amounts of energy.

Ultrasounds may be a more efficient way to share information, Melodia said, because roughly 65 percent of the body is composed of water. This suggests that medical devices, such as pacemakers along with an instrument to measure blood oxygen levels could communicate more effectively via ultrasounds as compared to radio waves. For example, by connecting blood glucose sensors with implantable insulin pumps, sensors could monitor the blood and then regulate the dosage of insulin as needed in real-time through the pumps.

The research at UB started in February 2013, is supported by a five year $449,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant. The NSF funding will enable more modeling and experiments with ultrasonic wireless body sensor networks.

For more information on the research, email Tommaso Melodia at tmelodia@eng.buffalo.edu.

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