San Diego, CA, December 13, 2004 -- The unimaginable happens - again. Hundreds of people are seriously injured as the result of a terrorist attack in a major U.S. city. The casualties heavily outnumber the paramedics and other emergency personnel responding to the scene. Clearly, it won't be possible to immediately transport all of the injured to emergency rooms. The only option is to set up a temporary emergency care unit at the attack site itself, treating patients there until they can be moved to hospitals.
But thanks to a pulse oximeter incorporating 802.11 wireless local area network (WLAN) connectivity, the job of monitoring the injured in the field is made more efficient. And this efficiency saves lives. Working quickly, paramedics move from patient to patient, attaching a wireless pulse oximeter to each via a finger-clip.
The scenario is hypothetical, but the technology is very real. Pulse oximeters measure patient blood oxygen levels. A mainstay of the emergency medicine "tool kit," these units help medical personnel assess a patient's overall condition and need for immediate medical attention. The conventional pulse oximeter transmits data over wires, making it cumbersome to use at a large disaster scene, where hundreds of injured must be quickly assessed and their medical care prioritized. At our terrorist attack scene, however, the wireless pulse oximeters immediately start transmitting vital patient data to a central server via a mobile 802.11b access point and the Internet. Emergency physicians miles away are then able to monitor each patient's condition and direct the paramedics on-scene.
The wireless pulse oximeter currently is under development at the University of California, San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)2], a partnership of UCSD and UC Irvine. The pulse oximeter is one of several first-response emergency management products incorporating wireless and IT technologies that Cal-(IT)2 is developing as part of the WIISARD program: Wireless Internet Information System for Medical Response in Disasters. Established to improve homeland security emergency response, WIISARD is funded by the National Library of Medicine.
At the heart of this low-cost pulse oximeter is DPAC Technologies' Airborne™ Wireless LAN Node Module, a ruggedized, embedded 802.11b module. This module incorporates an integrated network processor plus the network communications processing and protocols required to support WLAN and Internet connectivity. Garden Grove, CA-based DPAC and Cal-(IT)2 recently signed a major industry/university technology development agreement that calls for furthering wireless technology and its applications - including wireless-enabling numerous emergency first-response systems using the Airborne™ module. By combining DPAC's expertise with that of engineers and student researchers at Cal-(IT)2 and the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, DPAC CEO Kim Early "fully expects" that new ground will be broken in wireless connectivity solutions. "Industry/university collaborations are among the most synergistic of all relationships," he says. "And it's by applying our joint expertise that we're able to develop new, better ways to respond to the terror threat and other potential disasters we face today."
The DPAC/Cal-(IT)2 partnership follows the successful prototyping of the wireless pulse oximeter in a joint project involving Cal-(IT)2 and Dolphin Medical. To initially develop the pulse oximeter, UCSD engineering students and the faculty members and research professionals supporting them employed DPAC's Airborne™ Evaluation Kit. The kit incorporates a development board populated with the Airborne™ Wireless LAN Node Module, plus advanced evaluation/development tools.
"The DPAC Airborne™ wireless modules and development system have given us a simple and powerful mechanism for applications development and basic research in networking," says Douglas Palmer, Cal-(IT)2 principal development researcher and a project advisor on WIISARD and related ECE class projects.
The technology development agreement between DPAC and Cal-(IT)2 is broken into three phases: Phase I, currently underway, is focusing on the wireless pulse oximeter. Phase II will center on DPAC and UCSD's collaborative efforts to develop and implement advanced wireless applications built around DPAC's next-generation wireless node module. Phase III will consist of an ongoing program in which DPAC will help support UCSD's undergraduate and graduate engineering programs by providing the university with Airborne™ Evaluation Kits, wireless products and development tools.