According to entrepreneur and potential James Bond Villain
Elon Musk, you are already a cyborg . . . have you not noticed? Granted you might not have cables and computers installed directly into your brain, but you do have a powerful device attached to your hand. Smartphones, for many of us, govern almost every aspect of our life.
This is not usually what people have in mind when they think of cyborgs, preferring to fall back on science fiction characters like Darth Vader. Musk raises an interesting point however: We are so dependent on technology that we are in many ways cyborg in nature. Whether or not that is unsettling is beside the point, and cyborg-eque devices are becoming big business.
You are Not a Robot … But We are Getting Closer
This is especially true in the biomedical sphere, where developments like implants, mobile apps and wearable devices are revolutionizing patient treatment and management. Items like Fitbits have been around for a few years and they are considerably improving in quality and efficacy. Implants represent the most exciting aspect of this development and also hold the greatest promise for the optometry industry.
Some might say that contact lenses are the original implants, despite their temporary character. Now, of course, we are more familiar with eyelid and corneal implants, bio-integrations and prosthetic eyes, as well as glaucoma drainage implants designed to improve aqueous flow. Indeed, while many eye conditions are now being treated or managed with implants, glaucoma stands out as a particularly promising field.
Glaucoma is characterized by a high level of intraocular pressure (IOP) — and although it’s not the sole cause of the condition, it is a significant risk factor. The ability to mitigate and manage IOP in high-risk patients is therefore important, especially as glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. A group of researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA, recently announced a significant development in this area.
A group of four researchers from the University’s electrical and computer engineering department have developed a 2.4GHz ultra-low power, energy-harvested narrowband transmitter (TX) for wireless sensing and biomedical devices. It’s certainly a bit of a mouthful, but the transmitter deceive represents a remarkable achievement.
The TX comprises a voltage-controlled power oscillator (VCPO) and a loop antenna which is patterned over a flexible Parylene C substrate (which is a polymer) to achieve biocompatibility with the patient. The loop antenna acts as a radiator, as well as an inductive element for the VCPO, eliminating the power amplifier stage and bulky off-chip matching network.
Basically, what this all means is that the transmitter is designed for low-active and sleep-mode power consumption to support both continuous-data mode or deeply duty cycled burst-data mode of transmission. In even more layman’s terms, this means that data can be collected while the patient sleeps. This makes measuring medical issues like IOP much easier and more efficient.
Empowering Patients to Take Control of Their IOP
Hansraj Bhamra, PhD, was one of the lead researchers on the device while he was a graduate student at Purdue. He received his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering and went on to work at Apple and Broadcom Limited. Beyond the academic challenge, his motivation was also to help assist amputees and people living with glaucoma, which accounts for the broad applicability of the implant.
“The transmitter can be integrated with a wide number of biomedical systems and can also enable the wireless transmission of data, just like WiFi. One area which is specific to optometry is the implant’s wireless glucose-monitoring contact lens,” Dr. Bhamra said.
“The transmitter collects the pressure data from the sensing chip and transmits it wirelessly to a smartphone application. This is how it enables 24-hour IOP monitoring — all the patient requires is instruction by a healthcare professional prior to first time usage,” he said.
The transmitter device has been under development for a number of years, however, a paper on the device was just published in June this year. Given the exponential rise of interest in telemedicine technology due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is no small surprise that interest in the Purdue transmitter is also increasing. It can offer both an effective means of managing IOP, while also being able to operate under social distancing conditions.
The key factor ensuring the effectiveness of the transmitter device is battery usage. Typically, radio-frequency (RF) transmitters are the most power-hungry circuit in wireless body sensor nodes and biomedical devices. This is where Dr. Bhamra believes his device leads the pack.
An Opportunity for Investment and Development
“In previous studies, focus was given to either reducing active or leakage power consumption, but not both. In our study we designed and implemented the transmitter for both low active and low leakage power consumption,” Dr. Bhamra said.
“Thanks to our work, our transmitter has an energy efficiency of 7 picojoules per digital-bit, which makes it the world’s lowest energy consuming RF transmitter reported to date. Additionally, this chip is wirelessly powered without having any bulky and costly external electronic components — that makes the system lightweight and cost-effective,” he added.
The transmitter is now patented as part of the team’s cooperation with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. According to the University, they are currently looking for partners to develop the technology further. For more information, contact the office at email@example.com with the reference track code 2016-IRAZ-67415.