The new Human++ system adds one very powerful new peripheral to Android smartphones: your own body. It interprets electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, and can be used for medicinal or recreational purposes: Let your doctor know that you're having a heart attack, or let your Facebook friends know that you're playing basketball.
Created by Dutch research firm IMEC, Human++ is a type of wireless BAN (body area network). This particular version uses a dongle that actually plugs into your phone's microSD slot (which is one reason it's limited to Android--the iPhone, for one, doesn't have a microSD slot) and receives data over a low-power radio system. Though Bluetooth is more popular, the nRF24L01+ frequency was chosen for its low power requirements. IMEC says a Bluetooth connection would barely last the day, while the RF frequency can last a week.The sensors from one of IMEC's low-power ECG systems are on a sort of transmitting necklace which communicates with this dongle. That dongle in turn can issue status updates as well as send alerts to a doctor via the smartphone's 3G or Wi-Fi connection--a major step up from the old system, which actually used landlines.
There are non-medical uses for the tech too--athletes and trainers are interested in the ability to remotely track the inner workings of the body in real-time. It's not clear how the system might work with phones, like iOS, Palm WebOS, and Microsoft Windows Phone devices, that don't have expandable microSD slots--maybe an external dongle, rather than a (neater, certainly) internal one.
Using consumer tech to monitor health seems to be a big trend these days: Webcam monitoring, infrared glucose tests, and all kinds of helpful machines are popping up, using gadgets we already have in new and helpful ways.
The Human++ system is still in development, but shows a ton of promise, as proven by the positive reaction it got upon its introduction at this year's Wireless Health Conference in San Diego.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.