Got Juice? IoT Medical Devices and Wireless Power (WPT)

Our recent blogs have been focusing on regulatory matters related to wireless medical device design and development—and there will likely be more—but now is perhaps a very appropriate time to talk about another important, related matter: power for wireless and wearable medical devices.

 

Last week, Hurricane Matthew threatened a substantial portion of the Southeastern U.S. coast. Although it for-tunately did not cause anywhere near the amount of destruction of which it was capable, it still created numer-ous problems—particularly in regards to power outages. In Florida alone, nearly 1.2 million customers lost pow-er.

 

Of the many reasons that wireless, wearable and IoT medical devices have become so exciting, it’s that they en-able many patients to enjoy life in ways once not possible. However, there are many obstacles that must be over-come if they are to fulfill their potential, and one of them is something called “wireless power transfer.”

 

As its name implies, WPT gets power from a source to a device without a wire…but really, it means that it does it without a conductor. Instead, it uses electric, magnetic or electromagnetic fields.

 

The technology is anything but new (it was first demonstrated by Nikola Tesla in the 1890s) or unusual (many of today’s rechargeable toothbrushes get recharged in bases with no visible connections).

 

However, IoT medical devices pose a series of unique problems, starting with the fact that unlike a toothbrush, it could be a matter of life or death if the device does not properly charge.

 

Further, people don’t wear, carry or use rechargeable toothbrushes all day, as compared to a wireless IoT device that may need to be worn at all times—or better yet, devices that are implanted. This becomes especially im-portant when having to not only develop WPT sources for those devices, but sources that minimize the risk of exposure to radiation caused by electromagnetic fields.

 

In fact, a recent blog, 5 IoT Innovations That Can’t Advance Without Wireless Power, went so far as to list core groups that are hindered “until wireless power goes mainstream,” which included:

 

• Home
• Industrial
• Retail
• Healthcare
• Wearables

 

Naturally, of particular interest to us is what the blog said about IoT medical devices in the “Healthcare” and “Wearables” section. In short, it argued that “if IoT medical medical devices can conk out [due to a loss of power], their use is limited,” and for users or wearables such as an IoT glucose meter and automated insulin pump, it asked “Who would risk their life in AAs or a rechargeable battery?”

 

Which returns us to Hurricane Matthew. Ideally, When a massive storm is approaching, evacuation orders are given, and people ideally heed the warning—which includes people currently and will eventually rely upon wireless IoT medical devices. As shelters are often in gymnasiums where power outlets are scarce (and are likely already being used by others for personal notebook computers, mobile phones and other devices), it could be-come even more difficult for the IoT medical device user to not only find a WPT source, but to be able to safely use it in public areas.

 

This only touches the surface of IoT medical devices and WPT, but, like regulatory matters, is an area in which we will continue to explore and share.