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Rochester Institute of Technology Researchers Work on Sensor Network

The goal of the multiyear project is to develop a secure RFID-based system that would enable care providers to remotely monitor patients' cardiac health and medicine consumption.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 01, 2007Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are developing a sensor network that would allow medical care providers to remotely monitor patients' cardiac health and medicine consumption—and to do it with a layer of data protection. The project—which begins this fall and is expected to last three or four years—will involve developing a marketable prototype of a system that could improve medical care and reduce costs, says the team's leader, assistant professor of computer engineering Fei Hu.

RIT will collaborate with Yang Xiao, a professor of computer science at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. The Rochester Institute of Technology is designing the RFID tags and interrogators, Hu says, and integrating the readers with back-end databases, while the University of Alabama team, under Xiao's leadership, is designing algorithms for securing the data.

Although RFID technology already exists to accomplish the task of monitoring patients' vital signs, locations and prescription use, Hu says, current technology used to ensure the privacy and security of data consumes too much electrical power for the heart-monitoring system he envisions. The challenge for the team, therefore, will be to create a platform in which data can be encrypted automatically by network protocols to make sure it is secure, without making the security system so complex it becomes a power hog.

Fei Hu
Because the research group is using small, low-cost sensors to interface with battery-powered tags, the researchers are striving for long battery life. In the case of most encryption systems available today, Hu says, "When you are going back and forth between tags and readers, the algorithm can be too complicated and overuse power. We aim to create a low-overhead, low-complexity, low-power security scheme for RFID reader-tag communications."

Telemedicine—which uses such technology as video-conferencing and robotics, together with a communications system that can be either wired or wireless—is gaining the interest of the medical industry. By monitoring the health of a patient from a remote location, doctors and nurses can reduce the expense of personal visits and perhaps improve service by tracking that patient's health 24 hours a day through real-time sensor data.

Health-care professionals and their patients, however, still have reservations about using wireless technology to transmit health-care data. "The problem with wireless technology [as opposed to wired connections] is the data is not secure," Hu explains. "If you cannot guarantee the security of a network, no one wants to use it."

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