Patients who have implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers, may eventually be able to recharge or reprogram them without the use of wireless transmissions — which could be vulnerable to hacking — and perhaps save a trip to the doctor’s office.
Researchers say that the advantages of implanted user interfaces over mobile and wearable user interface (UI) devices include being invisible, impervious to the weather, and never being left behind or forgotten, reports Ken Terry of InformationWeek. The researchers have developed a “powering mat” that recharges the implanted medical device when it is placed on top of the skin.
Using a cadaver, the researchers showed that one can communicate with a small UI device implanted under the skin of an arm. The device could provide sensory output, such as vibrations or sounds, alerting a patient with a pacemaker that the device’s battery is nearly discharged. The scientists also tested pressure and light sensors for entering information.
Current implanted medical devices can only perform tasks that they were programmed to do. However, those with an implanted UI device could support a wide range of applications and tasks, the researchers say. For example, if a pacemaker malfunctions, the implanted UI could reprogram it.
“But that doesn’t mean the person is entirely in control,” says one of the researchers, Christian Holz of the University of Potsdam in Germany. “A lot of these malfunctioning pacemakers can be adjusted by reprogramming them. But so far, there’s no option for anyone but the physician to do it.”
Despite security concerns, the researchers also tested Bluetooth transmissions that could send signals to a care manager or physician. The scientists learned that the data transmissions were hardly affected by the skin covering their UI device.
The researchers have more tests to be conducted before the device can be widely used. For example, they must assess the infection risks of implanted UI devices. Also, it is not clear how patients would react to the devices implanted under their skin.
Source: “Implanted User Interface Gives Patients New Options,” InformationWeek, 5/2/12
Image by KVDP, used by Fair Use: Reporting.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.