Bluetooth low energy technology makes new medical applications possible

by Rolf Nilsson and Bill Saltzstein, connectBlue , TechOnline India - January 30, 2012

Power requirements for wireless connections constrain architecture and limit applications. That could all change, thanks to the introduction of Bluetooth low energy technology specified in Bluetooth v4.0, which is making its way to designers and consumers today.

Wireless technology has been replacing cables and allowing increased patient mobility for decades through ambulatory patient monitors. Portable patient monitors, infusion pumps, surgical foot switches, and dozens of other medical devices currently use wireless connectivity to maintain a connection to monitoring and information systems.

Bluetooth low energy technology uses 40 instead of  the Classic Bluetooth technology’s 79 channels.

One of the toughest issues facing portable medical devices today is power consumption. Power requirements for wireless connections constrain architecture and limit applications.

That could all change, thanks to the introduction of Bluetooth low energy technology specified in Bluetooth v4.0, which is making its way to designers and consumers today. Recent announcements by Microsoft and Apple supporting this new technology show its wide-ranging deployment in standard computing and communications platforms. The stage is set to deploy truly low-power wireless medical applications that have relied on custom components and platforms until now.

Bluetooth low energy technology is different from other wireless technologies because it combines a standardized technology designed from the very beginning for ultra-low-power batteries and a new sensor-based data collection framework. Bluetooth low energy technology will also be integrated in most handheld devices.

Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) working groups have already released several profiles for health, fitness, and medical device use, and others are in progress. While these devices are not directly compatible with IEEE 11073, a whitepaper detailing the data conversion and compatibility mapping is also being developed to make data available to systems using the IEEE 11073 standard.

Bluetooth low energy technology is the key feature of the Bluetooth Core Specification 4.0 (Bluetooth v4.0) and has inherited several technical features from Classic Bluetooth technology that provide for robust, reliable connections. New features allow for event-driven data acquisition, proximity sensing, and time synchronization.

But in many ways, Bluetooth low energy technology is a very new wireless technology. Bluetooth v4.0 is fundamentally different in that it is designed for transmission of small amounts of data instead of periodic data streaming connections featured in Classic Bluetooth technology. For example, classic Bluetooth technology provides support for headset and streaming audio data, a feature fundamentally absent from the Bluetooth low energy technology model. The technology features efficient discovery and connection set-up, short packages, and asymmetric design for small devices.

This article, which originally appeared at sibling publication Medical Electronics Design, explores the key attributes and applications of Bluetooth low energy technology with respect to medical design. To read it, click here.


About the Authors:

Rolf Nilsson is the CEO and founder of connectBlue, Malmo, Sweden; Bill Saltzstein is the company's president and medical business development manager.

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