Insights from industry

Sensors and the Internet of Things: Michael Sullivan

In this interview, Michael Sullivan speaks to AZoSensors about IoT Sensors and Sensors Expo 2018.

What are Internet of Things (IoT) sensors?

In general terms, any sensor can become an IoT sensor, just by enabling it with connectivity to a network – either a specific IoT network or a conventional network, where we have a broad definition of what the internet part of that is.

More specifically, it's a multi-module device that has a sensing module for the particular application that's required. Usually, that's a Radio Frequency (RF) module included according to the required standard for the connectivity, and then there's also a power supply module as well. Think about it as a multi-module platform that includes the connectivity piece alongside the sensor piece - many conventional sensors do not have the connectivity aspect.

The addition of that connectivity enables them to become ‘IoT enabled’, though whether they are actually considered to be IoT sensors depends on whether or not they were set up to be connected to the network and deliver their information that way.

What are the applications of IoT sensors within the medical sector?

There is a large array of sensors in medical environments, but we tend to focus on medical devices and think about these devices as falling into four categories.

There's the patient monitoring category, where the sensor is remotely monitoring a patient’s condition for a medical reason. In that area, our blood pressure monitors have become quite popular - we see a lot of connected blood pressure monitoring sensors in use now.

The second category is wearables. The wearable marketplace has really taken off, especially wearables that are for fitness or vital sign sensors, sending information for consumption by a consumer or to a healthcare provider.

The third category is internally embedded or implanted sensors that can be connected. For example, an IoT connected pacemaker can give the medical staff information about the patient after an internally embedded operation. Of course, those are the most difficult modules to create and include given the in-vitro challenges.

Then the fourth category is stationary sensors that are used in standard medical equipment. Whether it be patient monitoring in the hospital room or the operating room; or the monitoring of certain lab equipment, these kinds of sensors play a part in this as well. They're stationary devices that sit within the health care environment and are connected, but don't necessarily need to have all the mobility features that some of the other applications require.

Image credit: metamorworks/Shutterstock

How will the implementation of these sensors improve medical devices and medical therapies?

There are a number of ways. The most touted and obvious one is to improve the quality of care, but quite often it's hard to actually verify that improvement of quality of care. There's a number of factors in the medical environment affecting quality of care - the best case there is the ability of IoT enabled medical sensors to make the medical staff more aware of patient or treatment information because they can get quick access to it through remote connected devices - sensors giving them a lot of data from a lot of different viewpoints.

It works hand in glove to integrate with electronic health record systems. That same information that is going to the health care providers also goes to patient records. Therefore, patient records can be more consistently kept up to date and become more digitally alive, if you will. That's another improvement, it helps enable the ongoing quest to create a holistic patient record that travels across treatments and travels across a patient's relationships in different medical environments.

Then the last benefit is for the patient themselves. The wearable environment gives them the opportunity to view their own vital signs and monitor their own health. This is not necessarily greatly used yet by the professional medical community, but it's certainly helpful to the patient in terms of their own psychology and overall wellness.

There's a real benefit there, and that's the larger scale of information about health and fitness that the patient now has about themselves, without having to go into the medical system to find out what their vital signs are and so on. This benefit is slightly to the side of the medical community, but it's certainly important to the patient.

How do you feel the IoT sensor market is set to change?

There's a couple of things going on right now. Firstly, the actual type of sensors that are facilitated by new technology is constantly expanding. That’s especially prevalent in the in-vitro area; for example, cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators.

We're also able to look at visual prosthesis that are sensory enabled, and computer interfaces will soon exist that can show different aspects of brain tissue to allow for different kinds of monitoring and even different kinds of treatment, advancing the way that in-vitro applications are administered.

As we know, sensors do a twofold job: they monitor and feedback information, but they can also be connected to mechanisms that trigger actions. For example. if the level of a bio fluid goes in a certain direction, there can be a triggering of a chemical input into the system to send that bio fluid in a different direction, so the ability of the sensor can play a key role as the gatekeeper that helps trigger medical treatments or actions.

Some of these changes will have to do with improvements in biosensors and nanosensors that can operate in a more integrated way with the human body, so as to allow for these kinds of advanced monitoring and treatment options.

That's one dimension, but the other dimension is the IoT aspect.  There is the information that the sensors are now able to transmit into the network, into the health care records, or into the monitoring platforms; that can then be implemented by health care organizations, inputted into expert or automated systems.

With our old disconnected ways of working the data wasn't really going anywhere, but soon there’ll be some of kind of machine or artificial intelligence environment where the data that the sensor now provides goes to a central location where better decisions can be made, either directly by the health care community or automated to inform treatment.

This data maybe even be part of a feedback loop back to the sensor to activate activity. We’ll see a deeper embedding of sensors into biological situations and a deeper knowledge about how the information that sensors produce can be better utilized for the health care community and for the patients, to improve their care.

Finally, what can attendees expect from your session at the Medical Sensors Design Conference?

In addition to the set of things we just talked about, I’ll be covering: What is an IoT sensor? How is it constructed? What are the applications? How are they implemented and where are they evolving?

The other part of the talk is going to focus on the expanded security threat that this creates. Now we are in a world where sensors are interconnected via networks and the internet. They are powerful ways to transmit and receive data, but they are also more vulnerable to being hacked. I’ll be talking about the problem of vulnerability in the medical center, and how sensor technology becoming part of the Internet of Things creates a doorway into medical situations that needs to be protected.

The community is wrestling with that right now, so the talk is essentially going to be twofold: what are IoT sensors being used for in the medical environment and how are we dealing the security issues that they enable or that we face.

About Michael Sullivan

Michael is a Senior Editor at BCC Research and he has conducted research projects for IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, EMC, and Schneider-Electric. He holds an MBA and has carried out graduate work on Information Technology, Marketing Analytics and Statistics.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Zoe Peterkin

Written by

Zoe Peterkin

Upon graduating from the University of Exeter with a BSc Hons. in Zoology, Zoe worked for a market research company, specialising in project management and data analysis. After a three month career break spent in Australia and New Zealand, she decided to head back to her scientific roots with AZoNetwork. Outside of work, Zoe enjoys going to concerts and festivals as well as trying to fit in as much travelling as possible!

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