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Interesting Electronics Developments March 7, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.

It is no shock to any reader of this august journal that what’s here is pretty eclectic, and mostly interesting to me.  I am, however, gifted with the ability to see the future, usually because it’s so beautifully obvious.  In one of my more unusually generous moments I will now share my vision of a tiny part of your future, which is implantable sensors to monitor your health and warn you of glaucoma, wrong blood sugar levels, heart problems and stress.  These sensors will (eventually) be cheap and ubiquitous, because they will be much, much cheaper than emergency-room visits.

Why am I so confident?  Because the technology already exists (at least in prototype form) scattered across a few disciplines.  A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients developed by three faculty members in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff are believed to have created the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.  This sucker can be modified for glucose monitoring, heart-rate reading and probably other blood-content monitoring as well (using receptor protein assays that are already developed and in use elsewhere).

It’s one cubic millimeter, containing a microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a radio.  A bunch of similar sensors could be injected into various trouble spots in the body where they could be read with a wand-type antenna.  Sounds, I dunno, familiar.


Or, you could wear a suit with built-in antennas to keep you monitored all the time.

Part of the problem is, what’s going to power these little sensors?  How can they make a radio that small? Well, part of the answer is the tiny solar cell built into the sensor (remember, this one is installed on in the eye to check glaucoma, the buildup of intraocular pressure within the eye; causes blindness eventually and is relieved by cannabis and not much else).  This works well for the eye sensor, but what about the other sensors NOT close to the light?

Currently energy-harvesting devices have been built (italics to emphasize that it’s been done already) by Dr. Yong Shi, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stevens Institute of Technology which extract electricity from motion in tiny amounts, enough to power these small sensors and their radio transmitters. This one is pretty tiny, too:


The power out is significant: 1.63 V and 0.03 microwatts.  Not bad, and probably enough to recharge the little battery in the sensor, yes?  Dr. Shi has a patent on piezoelectric nanofibers for his trouble and is no doubt improving his materials and methods.

P.S.: Since I posted this rant, newscientist.com has written up a little article about a ~5mm tumor tracker with monoclonal antibody-tagged magnetic nanoparticles which will respond to tumor growth (growing or shrinking).  This would let the clinicians know whether or not to vary the dosage or entire cancer treatment.  Once again, read by a radio wand just like Star Trek, the inspiration of all modern technology from the cellphone to the iPad to the voice-responsive computer that knows everything…wait, do we have that yet?

P.P.S.: Look what I found while looking for the magic wand graphic above:


See?  Google Images is an endless font of inspiration.  I love that guy’s antennas, and this guys implants.



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