October 29, 2010
Members of the public could form the backbone of powerful new mobile internet networks by carrying wearable sensors. Experts weigh-in on the novelty and potential dangers.
According to researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, the sensors could create new ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures and make mobile phone base stations almost obsolete.
The engineers from Queen’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), are working on a new project based on the rapidly developing science of body centric communications.
Social benefits are being promoted from the work touting improvements in mobile gaming and remote healthcare, along with new precision monitoring of athletes and real-time tactical training in team sports.
The researchers at ECIT are investigating how small sensors carried by members of the public, in items such as next generation smartphones, could communicate with each other to create potentially vast body-to-body networks (BBNs).
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
The new sensors would interact to transmit data, providing ‘anytime, anywhere’ mobile network connectivity.
Many researchers are skeptical regarding long-term safety from the constant bombardment of electromagnetic radiation to the human body. “This has the potential to create a number of physical illnesses from cancer to neurological disorders,” said Mike Davis who specializes in electromagentic frequencies and there affect on humans.
Dr Simon Cotton, from ECIT’s wireless communications research group said: “In the past few years a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennas and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body. Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication – how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location.
“If the idea takes off, BBNs could also lead to a reduction in the number of base stations needed to service mobile phone users, particularly in areas of high population density. This could help to alleviate public perceptions of adverse health associated with current networks and be more environmentally friendly due to the much lower power levels required for operation.”
“The availability of body-to-body networks may bring much greater risks to the population than benefits,” said Davis. “Regardless of reduced power levels from base stations, they may ultimately place a greater strain on the healthcare system in the long-term by dramatically affecting the nervous systems of the entire population,” he stated. “Humans would become the base stations.”
Dr Cotton added: “Our work at Queen’s involves collaborating with national and international academic, industrial and institutional experts to develop a range of models for wireless channels required for body centric communications.
“Even though the market for wearable wireless sensors is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow to more than 400 million devices annually by 2014.”
Davis worries that once approved, the devices will be ushered in quickly by telecom without proper long-term testing.