Advances in medicine and communications are occurring so rapidly that a daughter will soon receive an alert when her mother’s activities show signs of the future. Alzheimer’s disease. A smartphone will be able to synthesize a person’s data on blood pressure, sleep patterns, and oxygen levels and send information to a designated physician when a pattern of concern appears.
With NextG technology, patients will own this information, choose who to share it with, and systems will be resistant to disruptions, external threats, and system failures.
To get there, there is the National Science Foundation of the United States collaboration with two federal departments and nine private connectivity giants: the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Apple, Ericsson, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and VMWare, to award $ 40 million in grants to researchers with the most promising ideas to transform the way information is communicated.
It’s called the program RINGS or rugged and intelligent NextG systems. Medicine is one of the sectors, along with education, transportation, security and public defense, among others, that will benefit from the winning ideas. RINGS is set up to fund 40 ideas at one million dollars each over three years. Full proposals must be submitted by July 29th.
Million dollar ideas
The National Science Foundation is trying to drastically reduce the time it takes for progress to occur. Typically, researchers apply for federal grants and some obtain funding and publish; the industry finally realizes and acquires the successful technology.
It used to take 20 years for research to go from concept to practice, ”says Thyagarajan Nandagopal, Acting PhD, Acting Deputy Director, Computer Systems and Networks Division, National Science Foundation. Medscape Medical News.
The hope is that with the partners invested in advance, buyers are already in place, eager to get results and ready to launch the winning technology.
“Researchers don’t have to go and sell these ideas to companies,” Nandagopal explains.
NextG will come after 5G, but experts have intentionally avoided calling it 6G because it could end up being completely different from the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth platforms we see today, not just an updated version, he says.
“The space is changing,” he notes, “and we anticipate more interest in things to come that may not be the traditional networks we know today.”
NextG, no 6G
The critical point in the next iteration is that the devices monitor patients 24/7 and patients can monitor their data and choose who to share it with. Physicians or loved ones designated to receive certain data can set up filters to receive information only when, for example, the monitored patient’s blood pressure levels exceed a specific mark.
The phones will act as agents and merge the received data insulin pumps, heart monitors and smart watches instead of tracking these functions individually. But to preserve privacy, this merger will take place on the patient’s smartphone (the base station) and the information will not travel “to the amazons, apples and googles,” Nandagopal says.
This is your data. You own it and your device takes care of it.
“This is your data. You have it and the device takes care of it,” he explains. “That level of intelligence doesn’t exist today; that’s something we hope to be able to allow with this kind of research.”
Sturdy NextG connectivity is vital as more and more people bring embedded monitors or activation devices.
As you can see now, “unless all the data is owned by an entity, you don’t have a good picture of what’s going on,” he says.
Voice assistants (evolved versions of Alexa and Siri) will be incorporated into medical information. Family members may receive information that an elderly person is increasingly using features on their devices to help them locate their keys, for example, or that they are asking the same questions repeatedly to the voice assistant.
Personal devices will be able to compare information with patterns of people asking similar questions and be able to identify the beginnings of cognitive decline.
Early research shows that the type of search you do on Google can predict signs of dementia 3 or 4 years in advance, Nandagopal says.
“We will see a growing integration of technology into our bodies, not to mention the use of these technologies in our homes. We will have devices that control our sleep to look for apnea and monitor the elderly in case there is a risk of falls.” .
NextG technology must also have a level of security and reliability not yet seen, he says, and be resistant to hackers.
With new technology providing 24-hour control, older adults will be able to live more easily in the environment of their choice and relatives living elsewhere will have the security that their health and safety is being monitored.
But that peace of mind evaporates if a system goes down even 5 minutes, Nandagopal says.
Marcia Frellick is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick .