Wireless world is almost with us

Welcome to the future: a wire-free world of sensors and hi-tech cars, according to research published today by media regulator Ofcom.The report, called Tomorrow’s Wireless World, outlines a number of areas in health and transport where wireless technology could have a decisive impact.In healthcare, for example, the report suggests the mainstream adoption of so-called Body Area Networks (BANs) – batches of sensors arranged on an individual which can monitor vital changes in the body and feed back information to hospitals or doctors.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/may/07/wireless1Tomorrow’s Wireless World: Ofcom report on future communications technology [news release]New technology in cars to help avoid collisions; wireless devices to remind patients to take medication; wireless food content scanners to change the way we shop …these are just some of the new technologies that are highlighted in Ofcom’s 2008 technology research report published today.Tomorrow’s Wireless World scans the horizon ten to twenty years in the future to discover potentially significant advances and new, innovative technologies which are being developed that could improve healthcare and transport provision.Wireless devices are now an essential part of our everyday lives. As well as transport and healthcare, wireless communications are essential to defence, education, entertainment, culture and commerce. Wireless communications are so integral to our lives that today there are more mobile subscriptions, at 70 million, than the 60 million UK population.Ofcom’s role is to ensure the most efficient use of the UK’s radio frequencies – or spectrum – that these services use. Spectrum is a finite resource; Ofcom’s technology research helps it to better understand how this precious resource might be used in the future and allows it to plan how we manage the spectrum to meet these demands.New technology in the healthcare sectorThe report highlights a number of innovative technologies in the healthcare sector which could be available for use within the next ten to twenty years:

  • In-body networks : a “body area network” could be implanted inside a patient’s body to enable doctors to monitor their recovery remotely. The in-body network sensors monitor how a patient moves or picks up vital health signs, such as blood sugar levels, and sends this information wirelessly to make an alert via a home hub or portable monitor. A number of UK universities, including Imperial College, are carrying out research in this area. These networks could use existing spectrum specifically allocated for use by sensor networks.
  • On-body monitors : these are small devices which people could wear to check vital health indicators such as pulse and blood pressure. These devices could be used to monitor chronic conditions, such as heart conditions, asthma or diabetes, to gauge movement or fitness levels. The device would use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies to send signals from the body to portable monitors, such as a watch or mobile phone, or a home hub. A community healthcare trial developing this technology is currently taking place in Portsmouth.
  • Smart drug dispensing : intelligent pill boxes or bottles could sense whether they have been opened each day at the appropriate time. If they have not been opened they will sound an alarm or send a message to the patient’s home hub or portable monitor, reminding them to take their medication. If necessary, the patient’s doctor can automatically be notified and then communicate with the chemist and inform them of a change in dosage. This technology could be particularly important for providing assisted living – such as older people in their own homes – and to help control chronic conditions which require regular treatment such as heart conditions, asthma or diabetes. Drug dispensers are currently available and research projects are taking place to add the necessary communications technology. They are likely to use existing technologies, such as Bluetooth or wireless local area networks.

Some of the technologies described above could be deployed for use within the next ten years.

  • Wireless food content scanners to change the way we shop : portable nutritional content scanners could enable people to scan the content of food wrappers quickly and easily. Using existing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, like those on the reverse of many bar codes, they would help identify items suitable for dietary requirements. This technology could be particularly useful for people with food allergies – such as nut allergies – and diabetics. This technology already exists as a means of helping prevent shoplifting and is becoming more widely deployed for identifying and tracking valuable items in transit. A research project in Finland has already developed a mobile phone which incorporates an RFID nutritional scanner and this or similar technology could be on the market in the UK within the next five years.

New technology in the transport sectorThe report also looks at new advances in communications systems to make travel faster, smarter and safer in the future :

  • Intelligent transport systems : this technology allows cars to communicate wirelessly and seamlessly with each other to automatically alert a vehicle of sudden braking to help avoid collisions – some could even include automatic braking systems in the future. This technology is currently being developed by many of the major car manufacturers around the world and could be fitted to vehicles by 2015.
  • e-Call automatic emergency call out : wireless in-car technology could be used to automatically alert the emergency services of an accident, enabling faster response times from ambulance and police, as well as on-site relay of images back to a hospital after an accident to assist diagnosis and speedy treatment whilst on-route. The European Commission is currently discussing whether to mandate this in-car technology which could be on the market by 2011.
  • Congestion alerts and e-transport : road-to-vehicle and car-to-car communications technology which could alert drivers to traffic jams to help reduce road congestion. These systems could improve upon the speed, quality and acuracy of existing satellite navigation systems when informing drivers of jams. An additional function could give details of routes to avoid which could help those with sensitivities to smog, pollution or pollen. This is being pioneered in Japan, the US and parts of Europe.
  • e-Transport systems : these could simplify travel and decrease journey times when travelling by bus, train or plane through one e-ticket which could be used on all modes of transport. While at home, in the office or on the move, a mobile phone or wireless device will provide real-time information including live and future timetable data and route information and allow you to make a booking.

As well as healthcare and transport, Ofcom’s report also highlights work on a range of other projects and wireless applications.Peter Ingram, Ofcom’s Chief Technology Officer, said: “This report demonstrates the many creative ways the radio spectrum can be used for the benefit of UK citizens and consumers.”Professor William Webb, Head of Research and Development at Ofcom, said: “Our lives continue to be transformed by developments in wireless technology. Ofcom’s research and development report highlights how a range of innovative new technologies could enhance transport and healthcare. It helps Ofcom plan for future spectrum use to benefit citizens and consumers”.For the full report, see Tomorrow’s Wireless World.Ends.NOTES FOR EDITORS1. The illustrations below demonstrate how this technology could enhance our everyday lives.In-body networks and wireless assisted living
Stephen has recently had a hip replacement operation. He lives some distance away from his family and is keen to remain independent and involved in his local community during his recovery period.During the operation, an implanted sensor was fitted to Stephen’s hip and temporary monitors were attached to his knees. These sensors monitor his movements and transmit this information to his home hub, so that doctors are able to follow his recovery process.Stephen’s house has been enabled for assisted living, allowing him to remain in contact with his family, as well as with doctors and carers, via a home hub in his living room. This allows Stephen to contact his family using video conferencing, enabling them to see, as well as hear, that he is feeling well. Stephen’s home has also been fitted with an automatic pill dispenser, which senses if the pill box has been opened at the correct time and if not, sends a signal to the home hub. An alarm then sounds to remind Stephen to take his medication. If Stephen ignores this alarm, his family or carer can be notified so that someone can stop by to check that he is ok.Smart drug dispensing and on-body monitors
Jameela is mildly asthmatic and carries a smart inhaler with her at all times. She automatically gets reminders to the home hub and to her hand-held communicator about external factors (such as atmospheric conditions) that may exacerbate her asthma and advice on how to cope.Jameela has also signed up for an anywhere / anytime service that allows her to meet other local asthmatics and provides general advice on managing her condition. She has access to a named care adviser and co-ordinator and could attend a clinic, either real or virtual, if she wanted to. The number of times she uses the inhaler is automatically monitored and she is contacted if it is above or below the norm.Wireless food content scanners to change the way we shop
Tom has a nut allergy and has to be very careful with what he eats. In the past, this made food shopping quite time consuming, as he had to examine each food packet carefully to check that the product was free from all traces of nuts.Tom now has a portable nutritional content scanner. This allows him to scan food wrappers, which have been fitted with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, to identify quickly and easily whether it contains nuts. If Tom is unsure whether a product is suitable for him, he can contact his doctor later, via his home hub, to ask their opinion.Intelligent transport systems
John is driving his children to school when suddenly a cat runs out on to the road in front of his car. As he slams on the breaks, narrowly missing the cat, his car sends an automatic warning message to Emma, who is driving in the car behind him. This allows Emma enough time to brake quickly and avoid bumping into the back of John’s car.John drops his children off at school and continues on to his office. His roadside-to-vehicle (RTV) communications device informs him of a traffic jam up ahead, and automatically suggests an alternative route for him to take. A little further down the road, John’s car receives a car-to-car message from a van up ahead of him, which warns him that a lorry has skidded and is blocking the road.John asks his in-car navigation system to identify the quickest way for him to continue his journey. The navigation service suggests that he parks his car in the nearby station car park and continue his journey by train. John agrees, parks his car, and receives another message informing him that his parking permit and train ticket have been purchased and that a taxi has been booked to take him from the station to his office.On the train, John is able to access his emails via an on-board high-speed wireless network. He receives a text message during his journey confirming that the train will arrive on time, so John is able to relax and arrives at the office feeling prepared for his morning meeting.Automatic emergency call-out and smart diagnostics
Siân is driving to work one winter morning when she hits a wet patch of road and looses control of the car. She slips off the road and hits a nearby tree. On impact, her vehicle telematics system automatically calls the emergency services and an ambulance is immediately dispatched.The lead ambulance paramedic, Clare, is carrying a small PDA (hand-held computer), which automatically picks up wireless messages from the medical bracelet incorporated in Siân’s watch. This enables Clare to access Siân’s home hub, which provides her with a basic medical history, including information about any serious illnesses, allergies or prescriptions. From this, Clare identifies that Siân is allergic to penicillin and is able to treat her accordingly.Whilst Clare is attending to Siân’s broken leg, another paramedic Kevin, takes a video of the car, showing the position it is in so that the hospital will be able to easily identify the exact location of Siân’s injury. Kevin then speaks to the local hospital via video conferencing in the ambulance to ensure that there are beds available and to pass on information about Siân’s injury in advance, so that the hospital is prepared for her arrival.e-Transport
Mark lives in a suburban area about 30 miles away from the main city and his journey into work involves three different modes of transport. He starts his journey by taking a bus from the end of his road to the train station a few miles away. From there, he gets a train into the city. As the right train only passes through Mark’s station every 20 minutes, it is important that he makes it to the station on time. Upon arrival, Mark gets the tube from the station to his office, which is only a short walk from the underground station.As a result of new technology, Mark is now able to use one smart card electronic ticket (e-ticket), similar to the Oyster card currently available in London, on all public transport. This means that he no longer needs to fumble around in his bag to find the right ticket, or carry the exact change for the bus. As Mark is a regular traveller, he has a season ticket which saves him money and time waiting in queues at the station, but pre-pay e-tickets, where you top-up your account regularly, and post-pay e-tickets, where you are billed or pay by direct debit for the fare, are also available.Mark’s e-ticket is integrated with his personal travel planner, a portable device which he carries with him when travelling. He has saved his route to work on this as one of his listed ‘favourites’. Whenever Mark uses his e-ticket to board the bus, this is recognised on his personal travel planner and the time and platform number for the next train going in to the city is sent to him as the bus approaches the mainline station. An alert is then sent to his personal travel planner, or mobile phone, to inform him of where he needs to go, ensuring that he is always at the right platform and knows exactly when the next train will be.This news release is also available from the Ofcom website at ofcom.org.uk/media/news/2008/05/nr_20080507.

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