Symbiotic Machines - Technologies II - Transporting Data

Body Area Networks are positioned at the low range of energy with respect to other well known communications networks, being designed to work on living beings. Credit: Computer Science and Engineering

We have created amazing infrastructures supporting electronic, and now digital, communications. In the area of symbiotic machines communications may mimic “human to human” communications, using sounds and vision, or it can be based on a direct electrical/optical communications connecting the data harvested by embedded sensors (in a living being) and digitally coded to the symbiotic machine that can be a few “tissues” away or a few meters away. The crucial part is the one covering the mm/cm gap inside the body to reach a transmitting (or receiving) device. Here we have seen significant progress using a variety of technologies (BAN: Body Area Network) , including embedded optical wires, high frequency transmission using skin as conductors, chemical and nano-particles based communication.

There may be a wide range of transport needs to be met, synchronous or semi-synchronous (little delay), asynchronous (with local storage of data that are interchanged, updated and locally processed), narrow band (involving just a few bytes) or broadband (for gesture recognition). There is quite a bit of research needed in this area, some work is being done by the Digital Senses Initiative of the IEEE.  Other work carried out under the banner of IoT (Internet of Things) can be exploited for Symbiotic Machines communications, like the one being carried out by EIT Digital in its Active High Impact Initiative (aiming at delivering a very flexible communication platform for IoT, with one vertical just being finalized in the area of health care).

One particularly tricky domain is the one of communications between embedded sensors in the brain (optical and electrical probes) and a controller located inside the skull which in turns can connect wirelessly to an external machine. Here technology is progressing quickly in terms of probes, now we are able to create tens, hundreds of probes (both for brain and retinal applications) and here, among others there is the issue of managing signals with a very low power budget in an environment that is quite noisy. Notice that the low power requirement is partly tied to use little power and partly to dissipate very low heat, to avoid cells damage. IEEE initiatives like “The Brain” and “Rebooting Computers” may play a role in this domain as well.

To ensure a viable data transport error correction codes need to be implemented between the living being and the symbiotic machine. These may require different approaches from the one we have been using in telecom networks to be tailored to the specificity of the area.

Not less important are the aspects of security. The symbioses has to be protected by hacking attempt and we have already seen a number of examples showing that current implanted medical devices may be hacked. The IEEE CyberSecurity Initiative can contribute to this aspects.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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