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Using Contactless Sensing to Detect Vital Healthcare Signs

The focus of the Wireless Medical Communications research team (WiMeC) from 6G Flagship is on achieving a vision of next-generation healthcare services, facilitates by the use of advanced wireless technology.

Image Credit: University of Oulu.

Typically three lines of research are followed by the researchers. They are wireless body area networks (WBAN), a complete chain of data transfer from measurements to patient’s electronic health records, and new secure solutions for care facilities.

WBAN is a group of small-sized low-power wireless sensors with communications capability. They are used for tracking vital signs and functions of the human body, and to monitor the surrounding environment. WBAN communication links can be categorized into in-body, on-body, and off-body (such as both in-in and in-on) communications, which are all investigated by the medical ICT group.

Currently, we put more and more focus on in-body communications in our research, which is an exciting task as the impact of different tissues in the body needs to be taken into account.

Jari Iinatti, Study Lead Author and Professor, University of Oulu

Iinatti continued, “Going towards 6G, we aim to solve challenges related to serving a multitude of links simultaneously, because WBAN communications in its regular use for off-body and on-body communications can already be implemented with current technologies.”

But the in-body link is mostly an unfamiliar area and thus highly intriguing as a research area. There will be more difficulties with respect to interoperability between systems, as all the technologies must function smoothly in a congested area including hundreds or even thousands of small medical and alternative IoT devices.

Also, the research group examined the complete chain from body-centric information transfer to electronic health records (EHRs), which necessitates the use and mastering of the present solutions, for example, LoRa, NB-IoT, and Bluetooth Low Energy, as well as their new usage considering the needs of healthcare data management.

We explore safe and highly reliable solutions for measuring human vital signs and delivering health data outside of hospitals and other care institutes. The ultimate goal is to provide remote healthcare services also to people who are living in rural areas, far away from health service providers.

Jari Iinatti, Study Lead Author and Professor, University of Oulu

Iinatti added, “To succeed in this, we focus on diverse reliable communications technologies, which can then be utilised according to the specific needs and available services in each particular area.”

The use of visible light communications (VLC) for some functions is one of the most potential secure solutions for hospitals, which the researchers are exploring at present.

Possible use-cases include delivery of confidential health information with high security and secrecy levels. Of course, VLC limits its use to a single room, which makes the technology resistant for eavesdropping.

Jari Iinatti, Study Lead Author and Professor, University of OULU

We are also exploring the possibilities to utilize contactless sensing approaches to detect various human vital signs, such as respiratory or heart rates using different radio or VLC-based measurement methods,” added Iinatti.

At present, the researchers are performing an EU-supported research and innovation staff exchange project “MSCA ROVER” (ID 872752), the goal of which is to create a novel system architecture for a comprehensive, reliable end-to-end data transmission chain.

The system architecture is a heterogeneous communications system with imaging and localization capabilities, which can be employed outside the hospital, for example, in remote areas and homes. According to Iinatti, consortium members from academia and industry work on four continents, complementing well with each other’s areas of expertise from microwave imaging, ultra-wideband (UWB), diagnostics, and localization to business.

We plan to demonstrate the ROVER architecture during the project lifetime, by the end of 2023,” added Iinatti. For a long time, the WiMeC group has been an active contributor to standardization, starting from IEEE 802.15.6 to IEEE802.15.4 associated activities.

Iinatti stated, “Our current and future contribution to ETSI TC SmartBAN PHY & MAC Standards is a natural continuation. Some of the results from WBAN MAC research have been patented and have also included in the ETSI SmartBAN standard, which is a European version of the smart body area networks standard.”

The researchers have been finding new development and partnerships opportunities constantly in the eHealth sector.

We are very excited to observe how our inventions, included especially in the current and upcoming standards, such as ETSI SmartBAN, will be implemented in real system and products during the following years,” said Iinatti.


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