Reliable body-centric communications and sensing
6G Flagship’s Wireless Medical Communications research team (WiMeC) focuses on realizing a vision of future healthcare services, which are enabled by the use of the latest wireless technology. The team pursues essentially three lines of research: wireless body area networks (WBAN), full chain of data transfer from measurements to patient’s electronic health record, and novel secure solutions for care facilities.
WBAN is a collection of small sized low-power wireless sensors with communications capability, which are employed for monitoring human body functions and vital signs, as well as the surrounding environment. WBAN communication links can be divided into off-body, on-body, and in-body (including both in-on and in-in) communications, which are all explored in the medical ICT team.
“Currently, we put more and more focus on in-body communications in our research, which is an exciting task as the impact of different tissues in the body needs to be taken into account,” says professor Jari Iinatti, who leads the team. “Going towards 6G, we aim to solve challenges related to serving a multitude of links simultaneously, because WBAN communications in its regular use for off-body and on-body communications can already be implemented with current technologies.
However, the in-body link is largely an unexplored area and therefore highly inviting as a research area. More challenges will arise from interoperability between systems, as all the technologies should work seamlessly in a dense area populated by hundreds or even thousands of small medical and other IoT devices.
The team also explores the whole chain from body-centric information transfer to electronic health record (EHR), which requires the utilization and mastering the existing solutions, e.g., LoRa, NB-IoT and Bluetooth Low Energy, and their novel usage, taking into account the demands of healthcare data management. “We explore safe and highly reliable solutions for measuring human vital signs and delivering health data outside of hospitals and other care institutes,” Iinatti says. “The ultimate goal is to provide remote healthcare services also to people who are living in rural areas, far away from health service providers. To succeed in this, we focus on diverse reliable communications technologies, which can then be utilised according to the specific needs and available services in each particular area.”
One of the most promising secure solutions for hospitals, that the team is currently exploring, is the utilization of visible light communications (VLC) for certain functions. “Possible use-cases include delivery of confidential health information with high security and secrecy levels,” Iinatti says. “Of course, VLC limits its use to a single room, which makes the technology resistant for eavesdropping. We are also exploring the possibilities to utilize contactless sensing approaches to detect various human vital signs, such as respiratory or heart rates using different radio or VLC-based measurement methods.”
The team is now leading an EU-funded research and innovation staff exchange project “MSCA ROVER” (ID 872752), which aims at creating a novel system architecture for a complete, dependable end-to-end data transmission chain. The system architecture is a heterogeneous communications system with imaging and localization capabilities which can be used outside the hospital e.g. in homes and remote areas. Consortium members, both from academia and industry, work on four continents complementing nicely each other’s expertise areas from ultra wideband (UWB), microwave imaging, localization and diagnostics to business,” Iinatti states. “We plan to demonstrate the ROVER architecture during the project lifetime, by the end of 2023.”
The WiMeC team has long been an active contributor to standardization starting from IEEE 802.15.6 and IEEE802.15.4 related activities. “Our current and future contribution to ETSI TC SmartBAN PHY & MAC Standards is a natural continuation,” Iinatti says. “Some of the results from WBAN MAC research have been patented and have also included in the ETSI SmartBAN standard, which is a European version of the smart body area networks standard.”
The team continuously seeks new partnerships and development opportunities in the sector of eHealth. “We are very excited to observe how our inventions, included especially in the current and upcoming standards, such as ETSI SmartBAN, will be implemented in real system and products during the following years,” Iinatti says.