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Researchers stream HD video through chunks of raw meat

"These data rates are sufficient to allow real-time streaming of high definition video, enough to watch Netflix, for example, and to operate and control small devices within the body," said researcher Andrew Singer.

By Brooks Hays
Researchers stream HD video through chunks of raw meat
Ultrasonic waves are passed through a pork loin. The technology could bolster the communication abilities of new medical implant devices. Photo by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., April 18 (UPI) -- Scientists have answered the age old question of whether or not a wireless signal can be transmitted via raw meat. The answer is yes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois successfully transmitted real-time video-rate data through large hunks of pork loin and beef liver. The findings hold promise for scientists aiming to improve in-body ultrasonic communications between implanted medical devices and doctors.

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Most medical implants used radio frequencies to transmit data, but FCC regulations limit the bandwidth available to RF electromagnetic waves. The waves are also easily lost and scattered as they pass through soft tissue in the body.

Ultrasonic waves don't face those issues.

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"Using ultrasonic signals, we envision the ability to not only control implanted medical devices in the body but to provide live streaming of high-definition video from devices inside the body," Andrew Singer, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, explained in a news release.

Singer thinks the technology could one day be used to offer a live video stream of a person's digestive tract via a swallowed device.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has ever sent such high data rates through animal tissue," Singer said. "These data rates are sufficient to allow real-time streaming of high definition video, enough to watch Netflix, for example, and to operate and control small devices within the body."

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Almost all underwater communication technologies now use acoustic signals. Saltwater in the body's soft tissues is part of the reason radio frequencies don't fare all that well.

Such transmission limitations were tolerable when medical implants consisted almost entirely of pacemakers. But medical researchers are inventing all sorts of new implant technologies -- glucose monitors, insulin pumps, digestible cameras and more.

"The increased demand for these devices and the opening up of new applications for implanted medical devices will continue to amplify the role of these devices for patient care and management of disease," said Michael Oelze, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.

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Researchers described their new ultrasonic technology in detail in a new paper published online in the open-source journal arXiv.

While the new technology holds tremendous promise, researchers say further studies are necessary to ensure the safety of ultrasonic signals.

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