Embedded medical and biological applications

Medical care in real time

An Italian team of doctors and embedded electronics experts at the Marcella Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome has developed a telerehabilitation (remote rehabilitation) system that enables patients with neurological problems to complete their convalescence training, for example, after a stroke, at home under real-time supervision by the experts. Duration and intensity of the exercises as well as physiological data, such as blood pressure or Electrocardiogram (ECG), are monitored at the local hospital. During exercises, such as using biofeedback and video conferencing, or after analysis of a training unit, doctors can recommend further or different training to their remote patients. This saves costs and time, and allows more patients to receive professional care with online technology.

“If an operation is or becomes critical, experts in Munich can literally see what is going on in the operation room in Noerdlingen.”

The medical department of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), Germany, is cooperating with the Health Foundation Hospital in Noerdlingen in testing the exchange of real-time medical images and other medical data during an operation or other emergency tasks. LMU not only educates medical students, but also operates one of the most highly regarded hospitals in Germany. The hospital in Noerdlingen is small and old, founded in the 13th century, but very modern. It serves several small communities around it.

Noerdlingen is fairly remote by German standards, which is one reason why it was chosen for this application. So if an operation is or becomes critical, experts in Munich can literally see what is going on in the operation room in Noerdlingen and give recommendations on what to do or analyze the available data, including Computed Tomography (CT) scans. A number of embedded electronic devices (blood pressure, heart frequency, ultrasound, laser imaging, nerve reaction speed, and so on), high-performance computer systems, and high-speed communications links are involved in this application.

Abuzz over passive transponders

The Free University Berlin and the Rothamsted Research Institute, United Kingdom, are working together, using harmonic radar (see Figure 1) to discover how bees find food. If bees relied on random searching for food, they would starve. With random searching, the odds of finding food are about 3 in 200 million, considering that bees fly about 6 km (3.75 miles) away from their beehive to look for food.

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Figure 1

To demonstrate that bees have a method to their madness, experts have developed a completely passive, that is, no batteries needed, transponder weighing 3 mg, or 1.5 percent of an average bee’s weight. About 9,300 such devices would equal one ounce. The passive transponder uses the energy from an incoming radar signal, transposing it into an outgoing signal at double the incoming frequency. Sensors can easily detect such a signal. Since a normal reflected signal from an individual bee would be too weak and undistinguishable from reflections from plant leaves, the transponder-enhanced signal is easier to track via radar. Researchers hope they can use the results to propose theories that explain how bees find their food.

3D audio assistance

HARTING Mitronics AG, Switzerland, a company of the HARTING Group, Germany, is noted for its expertise in Molded Interconnect Device (MID) technology, a 3D contour-following electromechanical interconnect technology. A hearing aid (Figure 2) currently in production at Siemens Audiological (Medical), Germany, using MID technology was runner-up for the Hermes Award for product innovation at the Hannover Messe Fair, and won the MID Industrial Prize at Productronica in Munich. With MID technology, Siemens Medical can use three directional stereoscopic microphones and ear-to-ear wireless communication to enable simultaneous 3D hearing with optimized adaptive noise cancellation in a device smaller than traditional hearing aids, so it is practically embedded in the human ear. HARTING Mitronics used a laser system from LPKF, Germany, in a laser direct structuring process to produce the MID devices.

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HING Mitronics AG - MID Hearing Aid

European events

The European Telemetry Conference, also known as the Garmisch Conference, was held at its usual location in Garmisch, Germany, May 2-5. Traditionally, this conference focuses on aerospace/avionics, car racing, and similar applications. However, most presentations this year pertained to biotelemetry. Presentations on biotelemetry applications ranged from observations of birds (worldwide), salmon (in the United States), or cheetah (from Namibia) migrations to a number of human telemetry applications, including remote monitoring of patients in dangerous health conditions or patients in telerehabilitation. Other applications included long-term monitoring of intracorporeal (inside the body) implants using wireless inductive powering and other telemetry applications on humans.

Hermann Strass is an analyst and consultant for new technologies, including industrial automation, computer bus architectures, mass storage technologies, and industrial networking. He is the author of several books and trade magazine articles, and an active member of several international standardization committees.

For more information, e-mail Hermann at: hstrass@opensystems-publishing.com