Researchers have introduced a new way of communicating that allows devices such as contact lenses to “talk” to everyday devices such as smartphones and watches. This technology, developed at the University of Washington, may transform how patients and their doctors manage chronic diseases.
Called “interscatter communication,” the technology works by converting Bluetooth signals into Wi-Fi transmissions over the air. Using only reflections, an interscatter device such as a smart contact lens converts Bluetooth signals from a smartwatch into Wi-Fi transmissions that can be picked up by a smartphone.
For example, a smart contact lens could monitor a diabetic’s blood sugar level in tears and send notifications to the phone when the blood sugar level goes down.
Due to their size and location within the body, these smart contact lenses are not powerful enough to send data using conventional wireless transmissions. That means they so far have not been able to send data using Wi-Fi to smartphones and other mobile devices.
Those same requirements also limit emerging technologies such as brain implants that treat Parkinson’s disease, stimulate organs, and may one day reanimate limbs.
The new technology relies on a communication technique called backscatter, which allows devices to exchange information simply by reflecting existing signals. Because the new technique enables inter-technology communication by using Bluetooth signals to create Wi-Fi transmissions, the researchers call it “interscattering.”
Interscatter communication uses the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or ZigBee radios embedded in common mobile devices like smartphones, watches, laptops, tablets and headsets, to serve as both sources and receivers for these reflected signals. That means a device can use Wi-Fi it needs without interfering with other Wi-Fi networks. It also preserves battery life in a device.
“Preserving battery life is very important in implanted medical devices, since replacing the battery in a pacemaker or brain stimulator requires surgery and puts patients at potential risk from those complications,” said the study co-author. “Interscatter can enable Wi-Fi for these implanted devices while consuming only tens of microwatts of power.”