The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) is doing some really innovative work in developing and designing with nano-enabled energy harvesting, energy storage, nanodevices, and sensors all integrated in an effort to create battery-free, body-powered, and wearable health monitoring systems.
These wearable nanotechnologies monitor individual health parameters and environmental exposures. Long-term sensing can help patients, doctors, and scientists to make correlations between health and environmental toxins, which can lead to chronic disease prediction, management, and treatment. Assist advances will accelerate environmental health research and clinical trials as well as create critical information to drive environmental policies.
The body-powered, battery-free feature of Assist devices is enabled by highly efficient integration of body energy harvesting and storage technologies, ultra-low power computation, low-power sensors, and intelligent power management strategies, with the goal of achieving energy-autonomous operation.
NERC says that there will be two system testbeds for the studies and research:
- Exposure tracking: Correlation of health and environmental exposures for understanding chronic conditions such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.
- Wellness tracking: Continuous monitoring of individual health for such things as treatment management, lifestyle habit changes, stroke prediction, emergency search and rescue, triage, and first responder tracking. Assist testbeds will be implemented using various wearable platforms, such as wrist bands and chest patches.
Assist's integrated system-driven research will be accomplished through five integrated research thrusts:
- Thrust No. 1: Energy harvesting and storage — developing efficient ways to harness energy from the human body or the environment and convert it to usable forms, and store it in ultra-high-density capacitors
- Thrust No. 2: Low-power nanoelectronics — designing and building low-power electronics and antennae
- Thrust No. 3: Wearable nanosensors — developing low-power nanosensors and wearable interfaces
- Thrust No. 4: Integrated sensor node design and prototyping — integrating enabling nanotechnologies with intelligent chip power management strategies for computation, wireless communication, and sensing
- Thrust No. 5: Systems testbeds — proving and improving the technologies through hierarchical and heterogeneous integration and testing in a wearable, comfortable, biocompatible, self-powered sensor system (e.g., wrist band, patch, and tooth cap)
Dr. Veena Misra, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of Assist Center, says that her team is creating self-powered devices to help people monitor their health and understand how the surrounding environment affects it. The center is led by such prestigious schools as North Carolina State University along with three partner institutions — Penn State University, the University of Virginia, and Florida International University. Other universities include UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan, and universities in Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Assist researchers are using the smallest materials to develop self-powered, health monitoring sensors and devices. These devices could be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, or as a cap that fits over a tooth.
I'll have more to report and blog about as this research progresses during the next several months and years. In the meantime, do you know of any similar efforts? Let us know in the comments section.