Wearable Embedded Systems

As diverse as tomorrows society constituent groups may be, they will share the common requirements that their life should become safer and healthier, offering higher levels of effectiveness, communication and personal freedom. The key common part to all potential solutions fulfilling these requirements is wearable embedded systems with longer periods of autonomy, offering wider functionality, more communication possibilities and increased computational power. As electronic and information systems on the human body, their role is to collect relevant physiological information, and to interface between humans and local and/or global information systems. As such, they are a key component for the health and security monitoring systems envisioned within the Nano-Tera.CH initiative. Of particular relevance to Switzerland, the potential of the watch, as the most commonly used wearable system, to interface between humans and information systems will be investigated. We believe that specific application targets of wearable systems are in the areas of:

  • Monitoring, diagnosis and/or treatment of patients with specific physiological conditions (e.g., heart diseases) or convalescents in an integrated e-health environment, to provide better, more rationale, effective and ultimately cheaper health care.
  • Monitoring of professional and recreational sportsmen, by collecting key physiological information during both effort and recuperation phases, so that suitable feedback is provided to keep the body functions in a range recognized to provide optimal training and health effects.
  • Supporting the elderly and disabled citizens, by extending their autonomy, improving their comfort and integration into everyday life, and guaranteeing their safety through embedded alert to emergency services in the event of a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Enhancing the security and safety of the individuals, for example, through biometric authentication, and monitoring of the vigilance of professionals (e.g., professional and public-transportation drivers).

From a scientific and technological standpoint, there are several challenges that need to be addressed to make wearable systems an enabling means to address health and security problems. The Nano-Tera.CH initiative proposes a system concept centered around a body-area network linking sensors to computation and communication elements. Various embodiments on such a network will be researched, including but not limited to the use of e-textiles and/or the use of a wearable wireless communications network and hub assuring the multi-radio connection to outside public and private wireless networks. In line with the philosophy of the Nano-Tera.CH initiative, we seek to make use of the advances in the fields of micro/nano-electronics, sensors, engineering of complex systems and ICT tools, to provide truly innovative wearable solutions, as follows:

  • Micro/nano-electronics: Wearable and implantable systems put the most stringent constraints on overall device dimensions, implementation and power consumption. To enable highly miniaturized, unobtrusive and secure wearable systems, new methods need to be developed to: (1) reduce power consumption of electronic systems well beyond current levels; (2) seamlessly integrate micro/nano-electronics into smart textiles, for instance, through flexible electronics instead of the conventional rigid silicon-based structures; (3) protect data gathered and transmitted by wearable systems using proper cryptographic micro/nano-electronic systems.
  • Wireless sensors and actuators: In view of the wide range of sensing and actuating modalities of interest in a body-LAN, our strategy in this area is phased as follows: (1) Judicious identification of the most promising sensor/actuator micro-systems with both highest academic and practical interest; (2) design of these systems and realization of a complete demonstrator of an on-body vital sign monitor embedded in smart textiles, including its integration into the complete system; (3) investigation of the feasibility of implanted sensors seamlessly integrated into our wearable hub platform; (4) development of  integrated bio-energy harvesting subsystem for the devised implantable sensors.
  • MEMS/NEMS: Since the main purpose of a wearable communications hub is to act as a gateway between the short-distance ultra-low-power body-LAN and a variety of long- and medium-range wireless standards (3G, WLAN, WiMax, Bluetooth, etc.), software-defined radio is the solution of choice to support such number of different radio communication standards on a common hardware. We will investigate the relevant MEMS solutions to enable such a software-defined radio platform. In addition, to alleviate the stringent power limitations of wearable and implantable sensors and systems, MEMS/NEMS-based solutions for energy harvesting will also be pursued.
  • Systems and software: From a system engineering perspective, wearable embedded systems pose significant challenges in a variety of domains, including, but not limited to, (1) human-machine interfaces where many opportunities remain for developing improved and alternative means for communication between man and machine; (2) power supply solutions combining traditional power supply techniques and innovative energy harvesting modules; and (3) system integration. From a software point of view, major challenges lies in engineering reliable, resources-aware and ultra-low-power embedded software.
  • Information and communication: To accommodate the reliable, miniaturization-friendly, power-efficient and cheap wireless body-LAN, we will investigate suitable ultra-low-power air-interface technologies (e.g., Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB)). For the candidate air-interface technologies, we will tackle relevant challenges among which: (1) development of low-cost, single-chip, ultra-low-power transceiver architectures in standard CMOS technology; (2) design of novel techniques and methods for timing synchronization, low-complexity interference-robust pulse detection, precise ranging and energy-efficient wide-band antenna design for UWB systems; (3) definition of suitable communication protocols and associated power management strategies.

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