by Shahzad Malik and Mehwish Nasim

The Core Communications and Networks Laboratory (CoNNekT Lab) at School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEECS), National University of Science and Technology (NUST), is a newly established research lab under the guidance of Dr. Saad Qaisar, a Michigan State University alum. The lab currently focuses on a diverse set of areas ranging from efficient multimedia coding and communication for telecom networks to e-health monitoring solutions and medical devices. The lab’s focus is on both applied and theoretical research. For theoretical research, the emphasis is on multimedia communications over packet networks; compressed sensing; video coding and communications over the Internet and wireless networks; modeling and analysis of the stochastic behavior of communication networks, applied information theory and network optimization. For applied research, lab’s particular focus is to improve the quality of life for low-income households in developing world through the creation and implementation of low cost technologies.

The lab’s applied research approaches also aim at envisioning the impact of emerging technologies at problems that have relevance to both developed as well as developing world. There is a strong emphasis in the lab to look for ideas that have relevance in above context and convert them into finished products that can compete in both local and international markets. Ideally situated at NUST-SEECS with access to fine human resource and research infrastructure available in Pakistan and a knowledge of both developed industrialized world as well as developing world, it provides an ideal candidate for joint ventures between Pakistani academia and expatriates. The research activities of the lab are being funded by a start-up grant from NUST. Below, we have provided a summary of few activities @ CoNNekT Lab in health-care domain though lab has a wider application domain.

Wearable Health Monitoring System

Health-care has become a key constituent of the architecture of contemporary societies, however, all over the world health-care systems are clearly not performing as well as they could and as they should. People are increasingly impatient with the inability of health services to deliver levels of national coverage that meet stated demands and changing needs, and with their failure to provide services in ways that correspond to their expectations. Few would disagree that health systems need to respond better – and faster – to the challenges of a changing world. There is a growing shortage of health-care facilities worldwide, whereas the number of people requiring access to a hospital is increasing. In Pakistan there are only 8 physicians, 5 nurses and 10 hospital beds for every 10,000 in Pakistan. The result is that patients are receiving lesser than recommended care. This requires an approach that would “put people at the center of health care” by using technology as an enabler for providing effective care.

Researchers at CoNNekT Lab in collaboration with Telemedicine and e-Health Training Center, Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi are addressing health-care issues by developing a context-aware, ubiquitous system that monitors health conditions of patients in a patch form factor. The system  would be as easy to use as applying a band-aid. It would collect real-time information regarding the medical condition of patients in an unobtrusive manner both inside and outside the hospital. This collected information is pre-processed locally and then transmitted to a central station. In this way, health-care professionals have continuous access to their patient’s physiological state which allows them to respond in a better way to changing conditions. The work focuses both on device designs as well as associated signal acquisition, processing and inference. Currently, the work is being funded by NUST start-up grant and a full-fledged system level design is under review with National ICT R&D Fund.

Wireless Neonatal Care

At the Millennium Summit 2000, through the unanimous adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, all 192 United Nations member states recognized the importance of reducing child mortality. The target set for achieving this goal was to reduce by two thirds, the under-five child mortality rate between 1990 and 2015. However, in 2008 it was reported that despite progress, deaths of children under five remain unacceptably high. Furthermore, a child born in a developing country is over 13 times more likely to die within the first five years of life than a child born in an industrialized country and thirty-seven per cent (37%) of under-five deaths occur in the first month of life. Currently Pakistan ranks as the 28th country with a staggering 67.36 deaths of infants under one year per 1,000 live births.

Neonatal care is a specialty area of pediatrics that deals with the care of newborn babies, especially those in critical situations. Most babies in neonatal care are born premature or before their due date. Many babies born a month or more early won’t have fully developed lungs, and if a newborn baby is less than five pounds at birth, he/she will probably have to stay in neonatal care until sufficient weight gain is achieved. Researchers at CoNNekT Lab are developing an unobtrusive system that would allow continuous monitoring of the neonate without the need for connecting wires. This system would record vital parameters of the neonate and transmit that information wirelessly to a central server. The use of ubiquitous health monitoring systems can improve neonatal care and save countless newborns by overcoming the shortcomings of Pakistan’s health-care infrastructure. The project is currently in prototype stage and under review with Higher Education Commission, Pakistan for complete funding.

Airway Inflammation monitoring

One of the leading chronic diseases affecting more than half a billion people worldwide is asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The need to monitor airway inflammation in asthma, has led to the development of a number of noninvasive methods of assessment, including analysis of cells and cell products in sputum samples collected by means of induced sputum stimulation, as well as the measurement of exhaled markers and soluble mediators obtained from exhaled breath condensates. Recently, exhaled air temperature has also been suggested as a noninvasive method for the evaluation of airway inflammation in asthma. Doctors are particularly interested in exhaled air temperature in hot climates. Currently available devices are expensive on one hand and at the other hand the design does not cater for the hot climate of Pakistan.

Researchers at CoNNekT lab are working on designing an economical device that can scale to masses, accurately provides markers for asthma monitoring and is suitable for use in the warm climate of Pakistan.

Hierarchical Clustering for Wireless Sensor Networks

The energy constrained nature of wireless sensor nodes, large multi-hop Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) must be organized in a way that enables scalable routing, data aggregation, and querying. In order to minimize the effort involved in the deployment and maintenance of a large WSN, it is highly desirable that the organization should be maintainable with minimal human intervention. The communication cost between nodes is much higher as compared to computation cost. One-to-one communication between all the nodes depletes their energy quickly which otherwise can be utilized for useful computations. A complex network of sensor nodes can be simplified using clusters.

Researchers at CoNNekT lab are developing energy efficient cluster selection mechanisms which would help increase the lifetime of sensor nodes and aid in development of a multi-tier sensor network architecture. (See here for publications)

Distributed Video Coding for Wireless Sensor Networks

Distributed video coding, a well established paradigm, refers to separate encoding at the sensor nodes and joint decoding at the base-station. It is suitable for visual sensor networks due to lower power consumption of encoding algorithm. The challenges include limited power and processing capabilities of sensor platform.

Researchers at CoNNekT lab aim is to develop a practical framework of robust and energy efficient multimedia (image/video) transmission over wireless visual sensor networks.

Safety Assurance in High Stress Environments

Pakistan is a country blessed with very rich underground mineral resources. New areas are continuously being explored with possible mineral deposits. According to some sources, country’s more than 6,00,000 sq.kms of outcrops area demonstrates varied geological potential for metallic/non-metallic mineral deposit. In the recent past, exploration by government agencies as well as by multinational mining companies presents ample evidence of the occurrences of sizable minerals deposits. Recent discoveries of a thick oxidized zone underlain by sulfide zones in the shield area of the Punjab province, covered by thick alluvial cover have opened new vistas for metallic minerals exploration. Furthermore, the discovery of coal deposits having over 175 billion tons of reserves at Thar in the Sindh province has given an impetus to develop it as an alternate source of energy.

Researchers at CoNNekT lab are developing a safety assurance system for high stress environments such as underground mines and oil & gas installations. The developed system would be used for monitoring the presence and/or concentration of toxic gases of harsh environments, monitoring structural integrity, detecting the collapse in case of accidents and localizing the collapses as well. The project is a joint venture between CoNNekT lab, NUST (Principal Investigator) and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The funding for the project is under review with National ICT R&D Fund.

For further information on CoNNekT Lab, you may like to contact: connektlab at seecs.edu.pk or lab director directly: saad.qaisar at seecs.edu.pk

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