I've been fortunate so far in my life and through good health have never spent any significant time personally in a hospital. I have visited hospitalized friends or family members, in some cases in the intensive care unit (ICU). One was my son who was born prematurely and spent 10 days in the neonatal unit. One of the immediate observations anyone has in visiting such patients is the number of confining wires connected to them to alert doctors and staffs to everything from changes in heartbeat and respiration to body temperature.


Vital sign monitoring is used in the operating room, ICU and other recovery rooms, and even in home care. One vexing thing for patients and staff can be the sheer number of wires attached to the patient and various monitoring devices. These wires hamper movement and, by forcing patients to be more sedentary than they need to be, slow recovery.


Researchers looking into the tangle of wires holding patients down believe that wireless body networks are the solution. A wireless body area network (WBAN) would use wireless sensors that transmit signals to a single embedded platform. This platform would then continuously process the data, provide readings, and activate alarms and any other necessary equipment in response to the patient's vital signs and condition. If such a platform were made from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) boards, this would be a major innovation in an industry where many solutions are proprietary, expensive, and take a long time to get regulatory approval.


A recent proof-of-conceptproved the viability of using a COTS board to create a WBAN platform. The proof-of-concept was developed by Portwell, an Associate member of Intel® Embedded Alliance, and LynuxWorks, an Affiliate member. The companies used a Portwell Mini-ITX boardbased on an embedded Intel®Core™2 Duo processorand hardware-assisted Intel® Virtualization Technology(Intel® VT)[1], combined with the LynxSecure separation kernel  and hypervisor software, to connect more than 25 wireless biometric sensors at once.


This solution is particularly elegant and significant for its use of a virtualized secure partition to provide isolation for the Bluetooth* networking stack from other system software. This helps ensure the reliability of the platform—an important consideration when you're talking about monitoring someone's heartbeat and other vital signs. Intel VT plays a key role here by helping enable the various critical biometric monitoring functions and operating systems to run in separate protected, virtualized execution environments.


Equally elegant is the use of a COTS board. Medical equipment manufacturers face stringent industry standards for reliability and patient data privacy. By starting with an approved COTS design, manufacturers could address these requirements more rapidly, lower development risk, and shorten time to market.Paving the way to WBANs is the approval of Bluetooth wireless medical systems by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003.


I think the use of COTS boards will really open up the possibilities for WBANs. COTS boards will allow medical equipment manufacturers to provide hospital and other care centers versatile platforms that do much more than enable patient freedom. They will enable easy customization for the monitoring needs of specific patients. What's more, COTS platforms offering virtualized secure partitions will enable the addition of new sensor devices to the platform as they are developed, extending the life of the solution.



A proof-of-concept like this gets you thinking about how some of the 15 billion intelligent connected devicespredicted for 2015[2]will help improve health care and early notice of a serious medical condition. Perhaps someday we'll all connect to our personal WBAN from time to time to check our health between doctor visits. What uses could you see for a WBAN in and outside of a hospital?

[1] Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT), and Intel® 64 architecture require a computer system with a processor, chipset, BIOS, enabling software and/or operating system, device drivers and applications designed for these features. Performance will vary depending on your configuration. Contact your vendor for more information.

[2] John Gantz, "The Embedded Internet: Methodology and Findings," IDC, January 2009.