The demand for electronics is growing exponentially. Advances in sensors, integrated circuits, and wireless communications have allowed the design of low-cost, miniature, lightweight, and intelligent devices that can sense, process, and communicate health information through wireless personal or body networks.
As medical devices become smaller, so too must the various components shrink, such as nano-connectors, microwave antennas, and more, all without sacrificing functionality. Sensors have been embedded in textiles, including hospital bed sheets that can monitor patients’ vital signs. Haptic technology in a watch now can tell you to stand and move around, or to take a dose of medication. These noninvasive devices can provide continuous, health monitoring with near real-time updates of medical records to your healthcare provider via the Internet.
Pacemakers are evolving, too, from being implanted under the skin to miniature experimental ones less than one-tenth the size of a standard pacemaker, which can be implanted directly into the heart. These first-generation lead-less implantables require a tiny, reliable, long-lasting battery, designed to last at least 12 years.
These things and more are changing the way electronics interact with the user, the device itself, and with each other. The age of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) has begun and we will continue to see more devices interacting with each other, independent of the user.
We can expect interconnected devices to learn our habits and preferences, and to comply with them. Thermostats learn your routine and can kick up your home heating system while you commute to lower your energy bill, your vacuum can run by itself, and lights can create ambience, all prior to your arrival by interacting with your auto or phone.
But, there is a dark side to the IoT, something The Washington Post calls “the Internet of things-that-can-kill-you”. As far back as 2011, a hacker demonstrated a method to control a computerized insulin pump directly, while at least one type of drug infusion pump can be hacked by someone accessing a hospital’s computer network. A report released by TrapX, a security firm, revealed that attackers can use medical devices, such as x-ray scanners, to infiltrate a hospital’s network, and gain access to patient information.
This issue’s section on Technology Leaders in Medical Electronics, as well as the cover story, provide more details on how advances in electronics technology can impact today’s healthcare demands and vice versa.
On a sad note, at the end of July, our long-time colleague, Ted Selinsky, Technical/Managing Editor at Tech Briefs Media Group, passed away suddenly. Ted was involved with Tech Briefs and the NASA community for many years. His contributions as an editor, his sense of humor, and his engineering expertise made him an invaluable member of the team. His loss is deeply felt.
Beth G. Sisk