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Embracing wireless BAN technology

Posted: 05 Dec 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:BAN  body area networks  health care 

In some instances, the sensors can be transceivers or receivers, depending on the bandwidth of the data to be collected—for instance, temperature or heart rate data, vs. an analogue EKG waveform.

Sensors used in BANs can be classified into two main categories, depending on their operation mode.

Wearable BANs usually comprise sensors that are attached to the surface of the body or implanted very close to the surface of the body for short periods of time (less than 14 days). They typically consist of inexpensive, lightweight and small sensors that allow unrestricted ambulatory health monitoring to provider near-real-time updates on the health status of the patient.

Implantable BANs have sensors that are located deeper in the body, in areas such as the heart, brain and spinal cord. Implantable BANs meld active stimulation and physiological monitoring, and represent a highly desirable proposition for some chronic conditions that until now have only been treatable using drugs. Examples of such treatments include deep-brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease, spinal stimulators for chronic pain and bladder stimulators for urinary incontinence.

An understanding of BAN requirements is key to the design of reliable products in this space. BANs are characterized by easily configured, low-cost, ultra-low-power and highly reliable sensor systems. Their packaging and operation must be sterile for use in proximity to or inside a human body. In addition, the wireless communication must be robust against RF interference in the environment from such sources as Wi-Fi networks, microwave ovens and cordless phones.

BAN nodes and standards
The challenges of designing BANs include:

� Form factor. Size and weight are very important for BAN sensors, as they directly affect the comfort of the patient. The smaller the area and mass of a node, the fewer restrictions it will introduce on the patient's activities. However, this must be balanced against the requirements for sensor signal-to-noise ratio, noise immunity and efficiency of the antenna for the wireless communications link. As companies look at targeting BANs towards consumer applications, user-friendliness and reliability are both important factors for increased adoption.

� Power and current consumption. Battery life is a critical challenge in BAN node design. The need for frequent replacement or recharging of batteries is undesirable for wearable nodes and unacceptable for many implantable nodes. Several techniques, such as sensor and communication duty cycling and the use of super-regenerative radio receivers, are making strides towards longer operational times and battery autonomy. Some designers are looking towards new developments in energy harvesting techniques to extend the lifetime of their BAN products.

� Reliability. When dealing with medical devices and applications, it is imperative to have a system that provides sufficient data accuracy and unquestioned data reliability. Patient safety depends on the repeatability, accuracy and reliability of a BAN system at the sensing and wireless transmission levels.

� Security. To protect patient privacy and prevent hacking into the network, BAN nodes must implement adequate security measures.

� Intelligence. The level of local-signal processing capability determines how much power is available, the flexibility needed in the signal processing algorithm, how many nodes are in the network and the bandwidth of the signals of interest. Thanks to continued progress in lowering the power consumption of embedded microprocessors, nodes are becoming more and more intelligent.


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