Finnish issues
1/2014

Wireless identification and sensing systems improve quality of life

Leena Ukkonen

 

Headed by Professor Leena Ukkonen, the Wireless Identification and Sensing Systems Research Group (WISE) explores radio-frequency identification technologies and sensors. Ukkonen gave her inaugural lecture at TUT in February.

 

Wireless sensors that measure vital signs and collect data are an indispensable part of wireless identification and sensing systems. They can be integrated into clothing, attached to the skin or implanted inside the human body.

Wireless identification and sensing systems have enormous potential to enhance the quality of healthcare and environmental monitoring, promote safety and increase the sustainable use of natural resources. They provide new hope for the treatment of various diseases, improve the traceability of food products and raw materials, and bring intelligence to our everyday environment.

The demand for ubiquitous intelligence and wireless sensing systems is growing rapidly. The systems are gaining increasing attention in the fields of biomedicine, automatic identification and sensor networks.

Converting thoughts into actions

Wireless sensors that measure vital signs and collect data for research purposes are an indispensable part of wireless identification and sensing systems. They can be integrated into clothing, attached to the skin or implanted inside the human body.

In addition to a broad range of potential uses in health monitoring, tiny implantable sensors offer promising routes for treating severe neurological diseases.

”A ground-breaking application area of implantable identification and sensing technologies is a wireless brain machine interface that uses an implanted sensor to capture electrical signals from the brain,” says Professor Leena Ukkonen.

A wireless brain machine interface is an emerging technology that converts brain activity into control signals and thereby allows individuals to control a device with their thoughts. For example, the brain signals of a severely paralyzed person can be wirelessly transmitted to a computer and translated into commands to move a prosthetic limb.

”The ultimate aim is to create miniature brain-implantable devices that restore the motor, sensing or cognitive skills of people who have suffered a serious injury and body-implantable devices that monitor and control vital functions.”

WHO? Anna Leena Ukkonen

  • Professor, Electronics, Wireless Identification and Sensing Systems
  • Born: in 1980 in Tampere, Finland
Most important academic degrees:
  • Doctor of Technology, 2006, Tampere University of Technology
  • Master of Science in Technology, 2003, Tampere University of Technology
Most important positions:
  • Professor (Tenure Track), Tampere University of Technology, 2013–
  • Academy Research Fellow, 2012–2017
  • Senior Research Fellow, Tampere University of Technology, 2010–2012
  • Academy of Finland, Post-Doctoral Researcher, 2009–2011
  • Adjunct Professor, Aalto University, 2009–2014
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Mississippi, 2010–2011
  • Visiting Doctoral Student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004
  • Researcher and Senior Researcher, Tampere University of Technology, 2003–2008
 

The smaller the better

Wireless identification and sensing systems must be tiny and easily mounted on a variety of surfaces. At the moment, the physical size and power consumption of the devices restricts their integration into demanding environments where reliable operation is of utmost importance. Another challenge is to ensure effective wireless power transmission through materials that conduct electricity poorly, such as human tissue.

The growth of biosensors and health-related monitoring systems has accentuated the need for extremely miniaturized identification and sensing devices. The implantable devices used in biomedical sensor systems are as small as one cubic millimetre, or much smaller than the head of a pin. And even tinier wireless sensors will be needed further down the line.

“Researchers are still developing effective means of delivering wireless power to smaller and smaller devices that are implanted under the skin and working to create a fully integrated, functional and reliable sensor system,” says Ukkonen.

Collaboration across conventional disciplinary boundaries

The development of wireless identification and sensing systems cuts across conventional disciplinary boundaries. It brings together researchers who specialize in electrical engineering, antenna technologies, biomedicine, neuroscience and materials science, such as novel nanomaterials and additive electronics manufacturing methods.

Ukkonen maintains close links with international partners, especially with researchers from the USA. Her WISE group has ongoing collaborations with UCLA in the areas of modelling and antenna design and with UC Berkeley in the areas of microchip and sensor technologies, neuroscience and biomedicine.

“Active collaboration with the wider scientific community is extremely important. It brings out one of the best parts of working as a scientist, with everyone pooling their strengths to achieve a common goal and make a difference in people’s lives.”

Text: Marjut Kemiläinen
Photo: Virpi Andersin

 
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