• Tech Law McGill

En route to the ultimate bodysuit

This article was written by Leo Cen, 1L.

What if someone knew your body better than you? Body area sensor network (bodyNET) is an emerging technology that consists of a network of sensors spread throughout your body to collect physiological information. A research group at Stanford University recently reported “a bodyNET composed of chip-free and battery-free stretchable on-skin sensor tags that are wirelessly linked to flexible readout circuits attached to textiles.”[1] This new breakthrough focuses on applying skin-mimicking abilities to electronics to better integrate them with the human body and provide intimate information about the body.

The group, led by Professor Bao, showed that their system is able to monitor the pulse, breathing, and even bodily motions accurately under a variety of conditions, including sleep.[2] The sensors are incredibly durable and signal accuracy is not affected even when the sensors are stretched more than 50%.[3] They can be moulded to fit comfortably with the body and communicate physiological signals via radio-frequency identification (RFID) to on-textile circuitry initiators.[4] The initiators, via Bluetooth, transmit this information to the user through an output device, such as an app on a smartphone, in real-time.[5]

While they could be used for aesthetic purposes such as lighting up your body a certain colour to reflect your mood through biometric information, these systems have been mainly touted for use in personalized healthcare.[6] [7] One example would be to use the bodyNET to monitor blood glucose levels to precisely know when and how much insulin is needed.[8] Hospital patients or elderly at risk of sudden changes in conditions could be equipped with bodyNET systems to better monitor their health status. These systems could also play a part in the diagnosis of illness via tracking of a person’s vitals and then building a database to match up characteristic vitals with certain illnesses. Eventually, such systems can be advanced enough to know even the most intimate actions of your body, knowledge that even you aren’t aware of. The way we think and the way we respond to stimuli is all reflected in our physiological responses; through data collection and analysis, bodyNET can be used to precisely determine our behaviour. We may even use our physiological signals to remotely control processes. For example, your brain activity could potentially be used, via bodyNET, to turn on your computer, start typing, and surf the web without even moving your physical body.

Though it faces challenges, especially concerns about privacy and its uses outside of healthcare, bodyNET remains a promising vision of what a “smarter” future entails.

[1] Zhenan Bao & Simiao Niu, “A wireless body area sensor network based on stretchable passive tags” (2019) 2 Nat Electron 361.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bryant Chu et al, “Bring on the bodynet” (20 September 2017), online: Nature <https://www.nature.com/news/bring-on-the-bodynet-1.22643>.

[7] Bao & Niu, supra note 4.

[8] Chu et al, supra note 6.

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