While chatting with Peter Putnam, director of marketing for Zarlink
, which makes embedded radio chips for pacemakers and similar devices, I suddenly flashed on an image.
It was well-known pacemaker wearer Dick Cheney playing Ray Walston's part on "My Favorite Martian
," with an antenna coming out of the top of his head.
In fact, Zarlink is supplying chips to St. Jude Medical for pacemakers which would work a bit like Walston's head, attached to Cheney's troublesome heart. Only the antenna is embedded in the patient's chest.
With a conventional pacemaker, a doctor places a coil next to the chest at each check-up to collect data on the implant. With Zarlink, " You put a bedside monitor next to their bed and that sends a signal to the pacemaker each night to collect data."
Daily data collection can alert doctors of changes in a patient's condition, or the pacemaker's condition, between check-ups. Thus the device is far more effective, and it costs no more than before.
Zarlink's radio chip broadcasts and receives in the MICS band
, about 400 MHz. It takes some power to generate these waves, but the range is short. You wouldn't want to use a band near that of WiFi, as Putnam explained.
"In the lower band you reduce attenuation of the signal as it goes through the body. There's a lot at 2.4 GHz – that's what microwave ovens go at." (Would you like a hot dog, Mr. Cheney?)
The revolution here is that devices other than pacemakers can use Zarlink chips, and thus deliver daily reports on their actions, rather than the quarterly reports patients must now rely upon.
Zarlink chips can also go into other devices.
"There's an emerging market for neuro-stimulators. Those have been successful in some therapies. One is a type of spinal cord stimulator that can block chronic pain signals. Epilepsy and Parkinson's are also being dealt with using neuro-stimulators. So is gross obesity."
All of which got me fantasizing again. My mom turns 85 tomorrow, and is having some chronic pain in her lower back. Maybe she'd like one of these for her birthday.
Then, who knows, maybe her radio could talk to Cheney's radio. There are a few things she'd like to say to him...