Networking Implants

E-mail Melanie Martella

So, it's not just machines, factories, and fields that are getting networked these days. Courtesy of researchers at Imperial College London, the next stop is networking the body.

I Sing the Body Electric
An article in The Engineer Online ("Skin Deep") describes the efforts of researchers at Imperial College London to develop a network that would wirelessly power and communicate with sensors implanted deep in the body. The people designing the implantable sensors can concentrate on the sensor design without having to spend time figuring out how to power the thing and get signals out of the body. According to the lead investigator, Dr. Antonio Vilches (as quoted in the article), "That is as far as a sensor need go with this approach, because my platform will then take that signal, digitise it and push it back out into the real world where it can be monitored."

The system that Vilches and his team are concentrating on uses an ultrasonic transducer connected to the deeply implanted sensor to communicate with a sub-cutaneous transponder. Inductive coupling between an external transponder placed over this subcutaneous one provides power to the sensor and a communications channel out of the body for the sensor signals. While there's still quite a ways to go before this thing hits clinical trials, it's a very elegant idea (although for those people with vivid internal realities and a penchant for tin foil hats, this may not go down quite as well).

Good Ideas Never Go Out of Style
I occasionally find myself commenting on certain repeating themes within the sensor industry as a whole: size reduction, increased hardware capability, and networking sensors of all types, whether it's for condition monitoring, streamlining of operations, or improved product quality. And why do these themes crop up so often? Because they're good ideas. And in engineering, the good ideas are the ones that work. We've done macro-scale networking, why not extend it intracorporeal networking?