Sonar Could Let Your Body Talk to Machines Better

Sonar. Subs use it. Dolphins use it. And someday your own body might use it to detect and treat what ails you. Echolocation unlocking the quantified self.

Given that the human body is mostly water—about 60 percent—researchers at the University of Buffalo are currently developing miniaturized sensors that use ultrasounds to communicate with other embedded devices, like pacemakers, in the body to figure out what's going on under all that flesh.

What's different about this type of "body area network" is that it isn't relying on a series of sensors that use electromagnetic radio frequency waves but instead uses ultrasound, which Tommaso Melodia, PhD, UB associate professor of electrical engineering, says is far more efficient given the body's mostly liquid composition. Radio waves, you see, have a hard time penetrating through the human body, much less water. A cluster of devices sending radio waves back and forth to each other also generates a significant amount of heat, which isn't really something you want happening inside your body. Melodia's theory has garnered a five year, $449,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further investigate this idea.

So, for example, if you're a diabetic and have embedded insulin pumps that are connected to a blood glucose monitor, the two could communicate via ultrasound to regulate insulin levels in real time.

We're obviously still years away from Melodia's ultrasound network becoming a reality but it's this type of wearable technology that will one day make the quantified self a reality. the NSF grant will allow Melodia and his team to begin modeling and experiment with an array of ultrasonic, wireless body sensors. [University of Buffalo via Discovery]