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Interscatter Communication Helps Implanted Devices Exchange Data

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 07 Sep 2016
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Image: Bluetooth signals from a smartwatch transmit a signal to a neural implant reflected to a smartphone via Interscatter Wi-FI (Photo courtesy of Mark Stone/UW).
Image: Bluetooth signals from a smartwatch transmit a signal to a neural implant reflected to a smartphone via Interscatter Wi-FI (Photo courtesy of Mark Stone/UW).
A new study describes how small devices such as brain implants, contact lenses, and wearables can talk to other devices like smartphones by using Bluetooth signals that convert into Wi-Fi transmissions.

Developed by researchers at the University of Washington (UW; Seattle, USA), “interscatter communication” is a technology that creates Wi-Fi signals by using Bluetooth transmissions from nearby mobile devices, such as smartphones or laptops. An example of the process is a smart contact lens and a smartwatch. The watch sends a blank Bluetooth signal to the lens’s antenna, which it receives as a single tone signal that can be manipulated. Using backscattering, the lens can then encode data into a standard Wi-Fi transmission.

The mobile device thus serves as both source and receiver for the reflected signals, enabling inter-technology communication. The system requires no specialized equipment, relying solely on mobile devices commonly found with users to generate the Wi-Fi signals, using 10,000 times less energy than conventional methods. The new technique was presented at the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM 2016), held during August 2016 in Florianópolis (Brazil).

“Wireless connectivity for implanted devices can transform how we manage chronic diseases,” said study co-author Vikram Iyer, a UW electrical engineering doctoral student. “For example, a contact lens could monitor a diabetic’s blood sugar level in tears and send notifications to the phone when the blood sugar level goes down.”

“Preserving battery life is very important in implanted medical devices, since replacing the battery in a pacemaker or brain stimulator requires surgery and puts patients at potential risk from those complications,” said study co-author Joshua Smith, PhD, an associate professor of electrical engineering and of computer science and engineering. “Interscatter can enable Wi-Fi for these implanted devices while consuming only tens of microwatts of power.”

Beyond applications in implanted medical devices, the researchers show that their technology can be applied for other uses, such as in credit cards that can communicate with each other by reflecting Bluetooth signals coming from a smartphone. This opens up possibilities for smart credit cards that can communicate directly with other cards, enable applications where users can split the bill by just tapping their credit cards together.

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