Beyond Wearable Devices: Internet of Bodies (IoB)
IoB is evolving rapidly and its future is exciting
A few years ago, a unique concept is known as a wireless body area network (WBAN) was introduced. It is also called body sensor network (BSN). This was created as a wireless network of wearable computing devices. These devices were either implanted within the body or surface-mounted in a fixed position on the body. In some cases, they have accompanied devices that humans could carry in their clothing pockets or hand or various bags.
Also, there have been a significant advancement in the field of Internet of Things (IoT) over the past few years.
In the process, these two technology streams have been converged to form what is now called as the Internet of Bodies (IoB).
Development of Internet of Bodies(IoB)
The Internet of Bodies(IoB) is created when the Internet of Things (IoT) connects with your body. In another words, the IoB is an extension of IoT that connects the human body to a network via devices that are ingested, implanted, or otherwise connected to the body. Once the connection has been made, data can be exchanged as well as the body and device can be remotely monitored and controlled.
Although, the concept has developed over several phases, there are three major phases of IoB development:
Phase I: This phase included the usage of wearable devices such as Apple Watches or Fitbits that could connect our bodies to collect and analyse data.
Phase II: In this phase devices which were internal to the body such as pacemakers, cochlear implants, and digital pills that are ingested in our bodies to monitor or control various aspects of our health parameters.
Phase III: In this emerging phase technology is being embedded within the human body (implanted microchips) leading to the creation of cyber-physical systems having human bodies to connect with a remote machine on a real-time basis.
Examples of Development on Internet of Bodies Devices
Health Tracking Device
The “phase I” IoB devices consisted of bracelets, watches, rings, and smartphone apps that can track steps, heart rate, sleep patterns, and other physical data, such as alcohol consumption. These devices operate by using advanced accelerometers and other sensors that can translate movement into digital measurements.
These devices have become the mainstream in the last decade or so. The adoption of these devices was rapid as they offered user-friendly analytics, giving individuals greater visibility into their health.
Since the volume of personal data that these devices collect along with their security vulnerabilities; the potential of hackers using such data poses quite a bit of risk.
Implantable Cardiac Devices
The most recognized example of the Internet of Bodies is a defibrillator or pacemaker, a small device placed in the abdomen or chest to help patients with heart conditions control abnormal heart rhythms with electrical impulses.
The new generation of cardiac pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators can provide real-time and continuous information about a patient’s cardiac fluctuations. These devices can also regulate heart rates in patients whose hearts beat too fast or too slowly and can help prevent heart failure.
When such devices become part of IoB, they transmit the data related to heart conditions to a recording device located either at the patient home or connected to their physician. However, in such cases, Internet connectivity introduces the potential risk for these devices to be hacked and the data they transmit to be compromised.
One of the Phase II, IoB devices are digital pills. The digital pills are embedded with sensors that record the medication that was taken.
The pill’s sensor sends a message to a wearable patch that transmits the information to a mobile app so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smartphones.
Through IoB patients can grant caregivers and physicians access to information through a web-based portal. This can help health care providers confirm whether patients are following their treatment plans.
Smart contact lenses
Currently, several types of contact lenses are being developed that integrate sensors and chips to monitor health diagnostics based on information from the eye and eye fluid.
One smart contact lens in development aims to monitor glucose levels that will hopefully allow diabetics to monitor their glucose levels without repeated pinpricks throughout the day.
Brain Computer Interface(BCI)
This is a development of a phase III IoB device called the Brain Computer Interface. In BCI application a person’s brain is merged with an external device for monitoring and controlling in real-time. The ultimate goal is to help restore function to individuals with disabilities by using brain signals rather than conventional neuromuscular pathways.
Another example of IoB technology is its interface with Artificial intelligence (AI). Some of the developments in this area include systems that can detect and collect data on human emotions by analysing facial expressions, voice intonations, and other audio and visual signals.
As a result of these technologies, vehicle accidents might be reduced, firms could learn how consumers feel about their material, and youngsters could be taught empathy. Although these technologies are relatively new, there is still much to be done before they can be considered practical Challenges Faced by the Internet of Bodies Technology
IoB devices can pose challenges across three areas: data privacy, cybersecurity, and ethics.
IoB devices already in use and those in development can track, record, and store users’ whereabouts, bodily functions, and what they see, hear, and even think.
Data privacy is a major concern. Many questions remain unanswered regarding who has access to the data generated by IoB devices and for what purpose. A cochlear implant, for example, may restore hearing but may also record all audio in a person’s environment. The regulations are required to maintain privacy of such data.
IoB devices may be vulnerable to the same cybersecurity flaws as IoT devices or any other technology that stores data in the cloud.
Given the nature of IoB devices and the data they collect, the stakes are particularly high. Vulnerabilities could allow unauthorized parties to leak private information, tamper with data, or lock users out of their accounts.
Hackers may be able to control implanted medical equipment to cause bodily injury or even death. Any IoB-collected data might disclose sensitive information, which can raise national security concerns.
Data privacy and cybersecurity concerns raise ethical concerns for those whose data has been compromised. Furthermore, the IoB raises additional ethical concerns, such as inequity and threats to personal autonomy.
Since the IoB is still in its early days the fundamental questions such as whether individuals have ownership over their personal data or have the right to opt-out of data collection. These need to be resolved through proper policy framework.
How regulatory Policy frameworks can Mitigate IoB Risks
As the IoB technology evolves, regulatory and legal issues need to be addressed and policies to be formulated for the proper use of the technology. The policy makers should consider :-
- establishing data transparency and protection standards for IoB device data. They should also consider how to give IoB users control over their personal information, such as the ability to opt-out of data collection.
- promoting cybersecurity best practices for parts of the IoB ecosystem. They could also create cybersecurity certifications to encourage the use of secure devices and raise consumer awareness.
Future Trends: Evolving IoB Ecosystem
Advances in internet technology and connectivity will allow many more IoB and IoT devices to communicate with one another at much faster speeds. The development of the fifth-generation mobile telecommunications network, 5G, has the potential to support orders of magnitude more devices per square foot than the previous 4G network.
Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi technology, is also expected to improve connectivity by enabling more devices to transmit data and communicate with one another.
Further, the advancement of satellite internet will increase internet availability in remote areas.
These advancements will allow consumer IoT technologies, such as smart home systems, to connect to IoB devices, allowing one’s smart thermostat, for example, to be linked to one’s smart clothing and automatically regulate the temperature in their home.
Some IoB devices in development, such as augmented-reality contact lenses or direct brain-writing, have the potential to significantly alter social life by allowing the recording and replay of all a person’s interactions.
Brain-reading and signalling neuro-devices are already available, but improved brain technology interfaces could improve cognition, memory, and control.
Defence forces have expressed interest in IoB technologies to track service members’ health and well-being, improve cognitive and physical abilities, improve training, and enable enhanced warfare capabilities — for example, with augmented-reality headsets or technology-infused exoskeletons that track war fighters’ physical characteristics and possibly also their mental state.
The ecosystem around IoB technologies is rapidly evolving. The IoB devices are used in a variety of situations, ranging from fitness and health management to job settings and entertainment, as well as in medical scenarios. In future, as associated technologies make substantial advancements, the IoB devices are more intertwined due to the convergence of technologies.
However, there needs to be a more robust regulatory framework around IoB devices and proper regulations and governance methodology needs to be evolved.