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Android phones get heart-healthy

European researchers are working on a low-power prototype interface that transmits wireless EKG-sensor signals to a mobile device.

Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre

Are you in possession of both a heart and an Android phone? Prove it with a system that lets you view your electrocardiogram on your Android device and then share it with a medical professional--or anyone else who might doubt you have a pulse.

European researchers are working on a low-power prototype interface that transmits wireless electrocardiogram, or EKG, sensor signals from a wearable "body area network" called the "Human ++ BAN" to an app compatible with Android devices. The system is the work of Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC), a nanoelectronics research firm based in the Netherlands; Holst Centre, a Dutch research-and-development firm; and Dutch software provider TASS.

The setup, demonstrated at the Wireless Health Conference in San Diego last week, is pretty simple. Lightweight sensor nodes worn on the body collect biodata. A microprocessor processes the information, and a low-power nRF24L01+ radio wirelessly transmits it to a tiny module compatible with the miniSD slot found on most Android phones.

Real-time and historical graphs of vital data from the BAN are easily viewable on the app, which uses the phone's Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity to communicate data over the Internet to a doctor, hospital, specialist--or Facebook friends. Much like the Epi Life cell phone with EKG-monitoring capability that debuted in Asia earlier this year, the system could be helpful for patients who don't need to be in the hospital but do need to be monitored.

The mobile health care industry (also known as m-health) is evolving fast. Medical-resource smartphone and iPad apps abound. Last year, General Electric showed off a Body Sensor Network with wireless health-monitoring technology and proposed that the Federal Communications Commission allocate spectrum for similar devices. And the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-cleared mobile-monitoring system for diabetes is set for early 2011.