5G and Beyond: Healthcare and Smart Transportation

Monday, Jun 25, 2018

San Diego, CA -- When the University of California San Diego first held a fifth generation – or 5G – wireless communications forum in 2014, the meeting was centered on defining what exactly 5G would look like, what capabilities it would provide users, and what technological developments were needed to facilitate this more robust network.

Fast forward four years, and the 2018 version of the 5G Forum hosted by the Center for Wireless Communications (CWC) at the Jacobs School of Engineering focused on the new applications this enhanced communication network will enable, since its technical components are now well defined. 5G connectivity, which is expected to become a reality in 2019 with limited local deployments as early as 2020, will enable latency of less than 1 millisecond, speeds upwards of 10 gigabits per second, and extremely high reliability, while supporting 10 to 100 times more devices on the network than currently possible.

“The entire world is hungry for how wireless — as pervasive as it’s become— can be used to unravel new experiences, new applications,” said Sujit Dey, director of the Center for Wireless Communications and head of the Mobile Systems Design Lab at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

While the more than 40 speakers throughout the two-day 5G and Beyond Forum shared how the benefits of 5G will extend into many different fields, two applications in particular are expected to dramatically evolve thanks to 5G: health care and autonomous vehicles.

Connected Health

Michael Sutten, chief technology officer at Kaiser Permanente, said the care provider-- which recently eclipsed the Department of Veterans Affairs to become the largest single healthcare provider in the country with 12.2 million members-- is already making an impact digital health, but is counting on the promises of 5G to make many of its future goals reality. From video visits to remote patient monitoring, home health visits and precision medicine, Kaiser Permanente has all of these initiatives in place or underway to better serve members while cutting down on the costs of healthcare; and they all depend on extremely reliable, low latency wireless connectivity. Sutten shared the experience of one nurse during a home health visit: The nurse has to carry upwards of 60 pounds of gear, including three different internet hotspot devices and IT equipment to ensure she could connect to a network with fast enough speed to access Kaiser Permanente’s electronic medical record. Sutton is relying on 5G to make connectivity more ubiquitous and faster, so this nurse can bring just one hotspot, instead of having to try different network providers to see which will be fast enough.

“We are certain 5G is one of the key enablers in the connected health patterns that are developing,” Sutton said during his keynote remarks at the 5G and Beyond Forum. Kaiser Permanente recently partnered with the Center for Wireless Communications on several research projects to this end.

“We’re in the healthcare business—we build software for health care,” Sutten said. “The last thing we want to worry about is connectivity. We just want it to be there. The promises of 5G and what you all are working on is fabulous, and if you can get us out of the Wi-Fi connectivity-point business that would be wonderful.”

One project the CWC is spearheading is to create a virtual physical therapist program that allows the physical therapist (PT) to get sensor-based feedback on the motions and amount of pressure the patient is using in their at-home prescribed stretches or strength activities. Dey said the system is first being developed and tested for Parkinson ’s disease patients.

“At a Parkinson’s clinic, we film the PT in action and we have all the sensor data collected,” Dey said. “Then we want to have training done over multiple patients and sessions to create a virtual PT, so that when you’re back home, you’re following the avatar. Whatever the errors are, the sensors you’re wearing will be sending your motion and pressure data and the virtual PT will evaluate your performance. Whatever the gaps are, it’ll evaluate whether you can proceed to the next step or you need to repeat.”

Jun Huang, executive director of Enterprise Architecture at Kaiser Permanente, said the company is also starting to experiment with monitoring patients remotely, beginning with those with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Eventually, we would like to get to a point of being able to continuously monitor a patient’s glucose level or blood pressure, and immediately alert their physician and health team when they hit dangerous levels.

“With remote monitoring, the No. 1 thing we would like to get from 5G technology is reliability. The reason why reliability is important is with all these devices being connected with patients and the care provider system, we do not want to miss any critical alert,” Huang said. That’s another aspect of 5G that UC San Diego researchers are tackling—data collection and reliable transmission.

“Data collection today is fraught with all kinds of errors, all kinds of manual interventions and so on,” Dey said. “Our researchers are working with partners to see if we can get to a day where data collection is continuous, automatic and streaming. No manual intervention,” Dey said.

UC San Diego’s own healthcare system is already taking advantage of this data to increase positive patient outcomes. Dr. Brian Clay, chief medical information officer at UC San Diego Health, said clinicians such as himself are starting to leverage the discreet data in the electronic medical record when they encounter a situation with no clear best practice, through what UC San Diego Health is calling a Clinical Informatics Console Service. For example, a doctor with a young patient with lupus isn’t sure whether to give him an anticoagulant or not—there is no randomized control trial in the medical literature, but by conducting data analysis of patients in a similar situation and their outcomes, the doctor can make a more informed decision.

From the patient side, UC San Diego Health was one of 12 organizations selected for initial testing of Apple’s mobile medical records app that allows patients to download their discreet medical data including medication lists, immunization records and lab results, for example. This data will enable physicians and patients alike to better understand the causes and solutions of health challenges they’re facing, and allow third parties to provide services to meet those needs.

“We’ll see more and more patients carry around a relatively rich data repository, which, when coupled with other self-generated data, is going to provide a fertile ground for application developers to leverage,” Clay said.

In addition to 5G enabling better data collection and analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are expected to play a role in fully leveraging this data as well. Companies like Teradata, which recently relocated its headquarters to San Diego and is a Center for Wireless Communications member, are working to better integrate these learning systems with data analytics to produce more useful information and results for clients.

Smart Transportation

Another application in need of 5G is smart transportation: that includes connected and autonomous cars, and smart city streets. Researchers in the Center for Wireless Communications are working to enable more collaboration between vehicles, infrastructure and even pedestrians, so that it’s possible to not only have extremely high fidelity maps of the present, but create predictive maps as well.

“Instead of one vehicle being intelligent, can we have multiple vehicles talking to each other and create collaborative awareness?” Dey asked. This collaborative awareness, in addition to 5G allowing cars to share their intent with each other, will enable safer and more efficient streets. Researchers at the Center for Wireless Communications are creating an open source software platform capable of collecting data from cars— from camera, LiDAR and radar sensors—and combining that with data from pedestrians’ phones and street infrastructure such as smart street lights, then conducting data fusion, object recognition, tracking and predictive analytics on that information to create a map capable of predicting what you’ll see on the road or at an intersection two seconds in the future.

“5G has the expectation that the applications will require either extremely high throughput, or ultra low latency, or ultra high reliability, but this particular application needs it all,” Dey said.

In order to ensure 5G can provide the low latency, high reliability and fast speeds needed for such a software platform, researchers like Xinyu Zhang , a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego, are exploring the use of the millimeter wave spectrum (30 gigahertz to 300 GHz) to accomplish this goal. Zhang’s research focuses on 5G millimeter-wave (mmWave) networking, and his lab is building a small cell test bed to explore vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity using mmWave and multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) channels.

Professor Bhaskar Rao, also in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego, is working to address the challenges of using massive MIMO channels—consisting of a large number of antennas at the access point, which expands the amount of information that can be transmitted—in a mobile environment. Research to develop radios and the corresponding technologies— antenna and radio frequency research, for example—to fully enable use of the mmWave spectrum is also underway by researchers at UC San Diego, including electrical and computer engineering professor Gabriel Rebeiz, and by companies including Nokia Bell Labs, pSemi, GlobalFoundries and Analog Devices.

Health care and smart transportation are two of many applications that 5G connectivity is expected to have a significant impact on in the coming years. The Forum discussed how decreased latency and increased reliability will allow for more industrial uses of internet-enabled devices to reshape the industrial sector with sensors in settings like oil refineries and rigs, container ports and mines. The Forum also explored how 5G will make virtual, augmented and mixed reality platforms more tenable in a variety of settings.

The 5G and Beyond Forum was made possible through the support of CWC member companies including Qualcomm, Kaiser Permanente, pSemi, Corning, Nokia, ViaSat, Keysight Technologies, Teradata, Symantec, Mitsubishi Electric and Samsung Research America.