University of Washington researchers unveil implantable Wi-Fi devices

22 August 2016 (Last Updated August 22nd, 2016 18:30)

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have introduced a technology which will enable devices such as brain implants, contact lenses and other electronic wearable devices to communicate with regular devices such as smartphones and watches.

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have introduced a technology which will enable devices such as brain implants, contact lenses and other electronic wearable devices to communicate with regular devices such as smartphones and watches.

The interscatter communication transforms Bluetooth signals into Wi-Fi transmissions over the air.

An interscatter device such as a smart contact lens converts Bluetooth signals emitted from the regular devices such as a smartwatch, into Wi-Fi transmissions which can be detected by a smartphone.

The interscatter communication uses the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or ZigBee radios installed in common mobile devices which enable it to act as both the source and receiver for these reflected signals.

UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer said: “Wireless connectivity for implanted devices can transform how we manage chronic diseases.

“For example, a contact lens could monitor a diabetics blood sugar level in tears and send notifications to the phone when the blood sugar level goes down.”

The process uses a communication technique called backscatter, which enables the device to transmit information by reflecting existing signals.

The new system does not require additional equipment but relies on the Wi-Fi signals emitted by commonly used mobile devices which use lesser energy than the conventional devices.

"A contact lens could monitor a diabetics blood sugar level in tears and send notifications to the phone when the blood sugar level goes down."

UW computer science and engineering assistant professor Shyam Gollakota said: “Bluetooth devices randomise data transmissions using a process called scrambling.

“We figured out a way to reverse engineer this scrambling process to send out a single tone signal from Bluetooth-enabled devices such as smartphones and watches using a software app.”

During a demonstration, a smartwatch relayed a Bluetooth signal to a smart contact lens fitted with an antenna.


Image: A smartphone and contact lens. Photo: courtesy of Mark Stone / University of Washington.