Smart sensors are being used to monitor the health status of a team of explorers and scientists involved in a record-breaking expedition across the Antarctic. On Thursday 9th December 2010, the 10-man expedition team carried out the fastest ever vehicle crossing of the continent - the driest and coldest place on Earth - and aims to be the first vehicle-based team ever to complete the return journey.
The Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition is using state-of-the-art technology developed by Toumaz, a pioneer of low cost, ultra-low power wireless telemetry technologies to complete its record-breaking journey using their wireless Sensium-enabled vital signs monitors. The expedition is being partnered by scientists from Imperial College London and supported by main sponsor Imperial alumnus Professor Winston Wong Dsc, who has also helped to develop the technology.
The team is travelling in six-wheeled drive Science Support Vehicles (SSVs) - which function as mobile laboratories - and the Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle that runs on bio-fuel and glides on skis. The research-led team have already achieved two new records by being the first to use biofuels extensively in Antarctica, and through being the first bio-fuelled vehicle ever to reach the South Pole. The researchers aim to collect data in several important areas, including measuring the body's response to the extreme environmental conditions using wireless body monitoring technology developed by expedition sponsor Toumaz and originally pioneered by its CEO Professor Chris Toumazou FRS. Professor Toumazou, who is also Director of the Winston Wong Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology at Imperial College London, is leading the science programme for the expedition.
The explorers are equipped with wearable Sensium-based devices that are wirelessly and continuously monitoring the physical effect on the body of the inhospitable minus 40 degree temperatures. Based on Toumaz's Sensium technology, these small sized, unobtrusive devices provide ultra-low power, continuous wireless monitoring and can be worn on the chest with complete freedom of movement. The devices are being used to capture and locally process key vital signs information from the team, including ECG, heart rate, physical activity and other markers of stress. The data is being transmitted in real-time to computers in the SSVs and data sets have been sent via satellite phone to researchers back at Imperial College London for further analysis, providing a unique insight into the physiological impact of life in the harshest environment on the planet.
Ray Thompson, Senior Research Associate at the Winston Wong Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology at Imperial College London, confirmed that the devices are functioning well in the extreme conditions, and gave his experience of the trip so far: "Nothing can adequately prepare you for Antarctica. It's the coldest, windiest, driest place on Earth, and this year the conditions have been the worst for eighteen years. Temperatures have averaged minus 35 degrees since we began the crossing but add the wind-chill which is well into the minus 40s."
He continues: "This is the experience of a lifetime for mind and body and I feel hugely privileged to be here. And when you're standing at the bottom of the world at the South Pole, you think of the hardy men who travelled here almost 100 years ago without the benefit of our modern technology. What effect is the temperature, the hard work of keeping warm, the stress and the altitude having on my London born-and-bred body? It's going to be very interesting to see the results."
The expedition team set off from the west coast of Antarctica at Union Glacier on November 25th 2010 and arrived in the South Pole on December 2nd, retracing the steps of the famous Fuchs and Hillary crossing. The team completed their coast-to-coast crossing on December 9th at the Ross Ice Shelf and will now retrace their tracks to Union Glacier.
Commenting on the expedition's success so far, Toumaz CEO Professor Chris Toumazou said: "We are absolutely thrilled that the team has been able to accomplish these unique achievements in one of the most challenging environments on Earth. We are all looking forward to the expedition team arriving safely back from its record-breaking return journey and being able to analyse the previously unavailable data that has been collected. Sensium technology is revolutionising health monitoring and enabling a new depth of insight into physiological responses that simply wasn't possible before. Toumaz is delighted to be providing the core technology that is delivering these important research aims."
Toumaz's Sensium Platform is an ultra-low power technology platform that enables the rapid development of complete systems and devices for non-intrusive wireless vital signs monitoring solutions, including health, fitness and "out of hospital" applications.
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